Bridging the Skills Gap Between Work and Education

Communication, learning, adaptability, self-motivation and self-awareness (CLASS) are qualities most prospective employers value. Unfortunately, many of these are absent in undergraduate and graduate educational programs.

The educational curriculum of business colleges, for example, is behind in this respect, and the teaching of these transferrable work skills is overlooked in many other colleges because of the perceived greater importance of technical training. This imbalance in education may be the result of young workers’ over-dependence on technology for communication. Much of the young workforce emerging today is lacking CLASS skills because their undergraduate and graduate programs have not prioritized real-world work experience.

Leadership skills are not taught nor developed as they once were, leaving a huge gap between needed skills and what is available. Employers are starting to go outside the U.S. labor force to find qualified workers to fill these gaps. Many companies have moved to a new model that includes hiring people with basic skills and then offering training programs to improve employee skills. These often come with incentives such as career advancement and promotions for those who acquire long-term skills. If you need to bridge the gap between what you have learned and what you need to know to get a good job, read on.

Cooperation Between Businesses and Educational Institutions

The graduation force does not always match the needs of the workforce. Studies show that workforce demands for certain skills outweigh the supply of qualified workers. For instance, about 25 percent of the degrees awarded annually in the U.S. do not correspond to the top professions in demand by the U.S. labor force, namely technology and engineering. Additionally, less than 8 percent of degrees earned fall within those high-demand categories. The U.S. educational system is significantly behind other countries in matching qualified graduates to needed labor. The result is that corporations are going overseas for qualified employees.

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Partnerships between businesses looking for trained employees and educational institutes looking to attract students by promising successful careers is a workable solution. Incentives for the student include a job such as entry level management at a reputable firm upon completion of a carefully designed curriculum.

What is causing the gap?

There are a variety of reasons for this complex issue. The rapid advancement of technology and the ability of artificial intelligence (AI) to learn much faster and provide skills that once required a well-trained human worker may be two leading causes. There simply are not enough people trained in areas such as medicine, health care, IT and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) to meet the labor demand. Employers’ expectations have risen at a remarkable rate as jobs in the technical industry are created faster than educational institutions can provide candidates. Many employers are reluctant to provide training but still expect their employees to have all the necessary skills to perform well at a job from day one. Such businesses have specific requirements and may not properly communicate these requirements to the student or educational institutions. To add to the problem, businesses may not offer competitive pay and bonus packages, insurance and health coverage plans, all of which can turn away the experienced and well-qualified applicants they say they want.

Employees might not come with the needed personal skills and attitudes that are necessary for survival in the business world. Inter-personal and intra-personal skills that may have worked in an educational setting may not always work in a job setting. These CLASS skills may have to be relearned, and it is sometimes unrealistic to depend on employers to provide this type of education. Educators are faced with the problem of a too rapidly advancing technology that changes faster than textbooks can be printed.

How Future Employees Can Help Themselves

You, as a prospective employee, can greatly improve your chances of crossing over effectively from the scholastic environment to the business environment. The CLASS skills set cannot be fulfilled solely by excelling in school and is a skill employers have trouble finding among potential employees. As a person entering the job market, you can always find ways to increase your chances of landing a dream job.

Learning basic core skills is crucial, as they are the foundation upon which so much is built in the workplace. Understanding how to work in a team environment, communicate clearly and effectively, and how to troubleshoot problems are basic skills all employers look for in new candidates. Textbook learning can only take you so far, so most students are encouraged to gain real-world job experience while still in school. Often, this comes through working within their college’s specific schools or working during the summer as an intern.

Even if the work is not directly related to your field, the internship shows you have actual workplace experience and understand the dynamics of working with others in the real world. Start looking for internship opportunities at least six months prior to your actual time off, as internships are often highly competitive and are quickly filled. If you have newly graduated and did not take advantage of this, consider looking for a paid internship somewhere to build up your resume.

Do not expect to jump right into the high-paying job of your dreams. Get a foot in the door as a first-time job seeker by taking an entry-level job to gain valuable experience that is a requirement to advance your career. Motivation and the willingness to learn new skills catches the eyes of employers and places you in a position for advancement. You will also learn specific skills that were not taught previously and are the very skills that tend to bridge the gap between formal education and employment.

Plan to also do the following:

  • Take the initiative and volunteer for additional responsibilities.
  • Continue to learn people skills.
  • Find a workplace mentor who genuinely wants to help you succeed and learn from his or her experience.

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