In a recent article for Chief Learning Officer, CEO Lee Maxey sidestepped the usual finger pointing when it comes to who is responsible for the skills gap. It’s true, he argued, that higher ed should invest in teaching the core competencies that business leaders complain are in short supply. Critical thinking and communication are highly desired by recruiters, but are hard to find in recent grads. But, Maxey notes, that doesn’t take corporate professional development off the hook. In an era of quickly changing markets and technologies, companies are responsible for training up their employees.
Core competencies, sometimes called soft skills, are among the most universally desired skills in today’s knowledge economy. They’re also notoriously the hardest to teach and assess.
If we want people to be able to adapt and cultivate new skills throughout their careers, we have to give them the tools to make them sound lifelong learners. Critical thinking, problem solving, and information literacy are three subject areas that will serve students well in preparation for the 21st century workforce. Unfortunately, these are not skills that can be effectively learned in a single semester, or even a single academic department. For example, critical thinking is best taught through repetition across numerous settings in order for it to be transferable. This can be difficult enough to teach, but impossible to assess without a consistent campus-wide strategy. For the piece, Maxey spoke to Credo Education’s CEO Mike Sweet about Credo’s work with American Public University System in evaluating thousands of students per term in exactly these skills.
Outfitted with these skills, graduates entering the workforce are better prepared to effectively and efficiently learn whatever the company needs. Some of these things, like common office technologies, are predictable. Others, including market shifts five years in the future, are not.
Colleges and universities can’t close the skills gap on their own, nor should it be entirely their responsibility. The mission of higher ed has always been to prepare students for lifelong success, and effectively teaching these skills is an important step in fulfilling that promise.