The Skills Gap: What It Is and What We Can Do about It
Published on November 26, 2014 by arothstein
As of August 2014, 9.6 million people were out of work and about 4.8 million jobs went unfilled. There are several possible reasons for the disparity between unemployment rates and available jobs, one of which is referred to as the skills gap.
Companies define the skills gap as a lack of technical and soft skills needed for people to competently perform their jobs. It has become a widespread issue across all industries – from healthcare to information technology – ever since the 2007 recession, and there seems to be no quick or easy solution.
Bridging the Gap with Education
One of the main culprits lies within the higher education system. Many colleges don’t collaborate with employers to find out what specific skills are required in their industry, leaving their students with inadequate training for those positions.
Earning a degree is still preferable to not earning one. Graduates from four-year colleges made 98 percent more per hour than those without a degree in 2013. Clearly, it is still seen as a valuable and often necessary credential for many jobs in the workforce. But the quality of that degree can make a huge difference in both a student’s career prospects and overall career experience.
Here are a few ways in which higher education institutions can prepare students with the skills needed to qualify for jobs in a growing workforce.
Getting on-the-job training should be something that happens during school, not after graduation. Colleges that offer applied and service learning projects as part of their core curriculum are giving their students a competitive advantage over students who learned by merely reading textbooks and listening to lectures.
Medical assistant students, for example, often spend a lot of time volunteering at local hospitals or clinics as part of their program’s requirements. The same goes for massage therapy students, who get their hands-on training in the form of real clients in massage labs.
Even if a course is not specific to a certain program, any applied learning or service learning project as assigned by instructors can help bolster students’ resumes and ultimately make them more hirable.
Curriculum Includes Employer Input
According to CareerBuilder (p. 98), nearly all academic organizations surveyed believe their faculty members should be communicating with industry professionals regarding the skills they look for in potential candidates. Sadly, only about half of them say their schools actually do.
A college program that is based on employer input is one of the best ways to gauge its quality. Curriculum that has been tailored by professionals in the industry can provide students with an insider’s look into what will be expected of them in their future careers, making their education that much more valuable in the real world.
Program advisory committees are a common way for colleges to collaborate with professionals who offer useful insights into an ever-evolving job market.
Higher education institutions that encourage (or require) internships are giving their students the chance to get on-the-job training, network with local employers and build up an impressive resume before even graduating.
Internships are also some of the best places for students to solidify their understanding of concepts taught in class.
The bottom line is that higher education institutions and employers need to work together in determining what skills are needed in the workforce. A combination of applied learning projects, employer-based input and internship opportunities are just some of the ways in which we can help bridge the skills gap.
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