Who Holds the Onus for Today’s Skills Gap?

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In an age where technology reigns king and the landscape of business changes almost daily, the skills gap is growing, and it’s growing at a rapid pace. In 2019, over 83% of employers surveyed in the U.S. noted they had difficulty hiring qualified candidates, which directly speaks to the growth of the skills gap in recent years. It’s not a centralized issue affecting just skilled trade jobs anymore either. The issue has grown to affect every industry across the country and ultimately across the globe, with sales and marketing, IT, and skilled trades in the lead.

Employers vs. Educators

When we hear about the skills gap, it’s typically in the context of employers’ dissatisfaction with the proficiency of their newly hired workers. Or in some cases, their inability to find a qualified candidate to fill a role at all.

This brings an important predicament to light, one that is being debated more often in recent months—who owns the skills gap? Who is responsible for closing the gap?

Is it fair to say that higher education is responsible for ensuring their graduates are prepared to start their careers on the right foot, with every little morsel of knowledge required to succeed?

Or do companies hold the responsibility to take a more proactive role in training their employees to meet the day-to-day challenges that are unique to their business model?

In reality, the onus should really be on both, but in different ways.

In terms of educators, there are skills we can teach students—and ways we can teach them—that will make it easier for them to learn, both throughout their time in college and once they begin their career. When it comes to employers, they need to invest in the upskilling and training of their workforce, as no two businesses are made the same.

Skills to Excel in the Knowledge Economy

The fact is that the knowledge economy has opened our workforce up to a landscape where changes occur at a faster pace than ever before. A pace that no university can embrace quickly enough to teach. But what can they teach? Skills that will impact an individual’s employability.

If an individual lacks the skills to perform in the knowledge economy, whether they have the basic knowledge of their field or not, they will lose out on many opportunities. However, the ripple effect of their weakness not only affects their future, but also the companies that individuals work for and the academic institution they attended.

When the agility of the workforce falters, economic growth slows. When the worth of higher education is devalued, schools risk losing credibility in addition to funding streams.

Learning how to learn, which includes a combination of critical thinking, information literacy, and quantitative reasoning skills, is the essential foundation upon which a modern education should be built.

In order to make good on the promise of higher education, academic institutions need to understand what is necessary to equip their graduates with the ability to thrive throughout the course of their professional lives. In the past, that meant teaching them a discipline they would use for years to come. Now, this means teaching students valuable life skills that can be transferred through industries, through varied positions, during uncertain global climates.

A recent study noted employers highest valued traits were a candidate’s ability to understand their role and have realistic career expectations, their ability to deal with conflict and constructive criticism effectively, their ability to pivot to apply feedback to new direction, and effective listening skills. While these things can certainly be taught in the classroom, there needs to be an integration of other educational requirements like internships and clubs as a part of the curriculum to teach life and business skills in an educational setting that will set them up for future success.

Educate for Change

That being said, using Gen Ed, FYE, and Student Success programs, colleges and universities across the country have been able to work toward building a better foundation of critical skills in their students. This impacts retention, graduation rates, and job placements: admirable outcomes in any era.

In the business world, manufacturing companies are on track to spend over $25 billion dollars this year upskilling their current workforce and investing in customized training options for newly hired employees. Their goal is twofold: to combat the workforce shortages while also enhancing employee satisfaction. Through creating an environment that values learning with set career paths for new hires with a focusing on both personal and professional growth they aim to create a pipeline for their employment demands moving forward.

The growing skills gap is one of the great challenges of the early part of the 21st century. Both universities and companies, along with their students and employees, own a role in closing that gap to ensure mutual success moving forward in the modern knowledge economy.