A popular catch-phrase, and somewhat counter-intuitive concept given the unemployment rate in past years, the “skills gap” is a major stumbling block along the path to economic recovery for employers, education institutions, and new job seekers alike.
In the most traditional sense, this gap is simply a disconnect between the skills or areas of study being selected or taught to students and the skills required in the jobs employers are trying to fill to fit their business needs. However, in a 2014 survey published by The Economist Intelligence Unit employers report a somewhat different kind of skills gap between their desired skill set and that of the new college graduates they are encountering as job applicants.
What skills are missing in the skills gap?
When looking for a new employee, employers indicate that the top 3 most important workplace skills are the following:
As the study’s authors point out, a glaring omission from the list above are those job-specific skills that have traditionally been associated with the skills gap.
Although “technical skills associated with the job” does come in at the fourth spot on the list, the importance of these soft-skills cannot go overlooked.
The good news is that these soft-skills are applicable across virtually every industry and job type imaginable, which should allow recent graduates with these skills a wide variety of options when seeking employment. The not-so-good news is that employers are struggling to find recent graduates that they feel have these skills in place.
The cost of collaboration
There are a plethora of examples of employers collaborating with higher education institutions or other workforce training programs to help turn out new graduates with the technical skill set they require in order to build their workforce. While these programs are largely focused on middle-skill level type jobs (i.e., technical/specialist positions in IT, healthcare or manufacturing) and tend to be between community colleges and local employers, setting up collaborations to better develop the soft-skills employers are looking for may prove to be more challenging.
Cost, The Economist study concludes, is the main barrier to employer's pursuing and developing collaborations with higher education institutions more fully, particularly when it comes to soft-skills development. They are willing to invest, but want to be assured that it will pay off long term for their bottom line. Unlike the technical skills focused programs, soft-skills programs will need to be designed to track much more subtle and subjective measurements, not to mention the initial need to define what these metrics should be.
However, outside factors may accelerate the speed with which some of these collaborations move ahead, regardless of cost. As the workforce continues to cycle out the baby-boomers and cycle in more millennials (and generations beyond), it will become more imperative that employers invest in training collaborations with higher education for both their potential incoming and existing young staff in order to ensure they have the “right” skill set in place. Similarly, higher education (even beyond 2-year schools) is also likely to feel increasing pressures to collaborate more closely with industry as their funding continues to decline.
The local perspective
Locally, 61% of participating organizations in the 2014 ERC/NOCHE Intern & Recent Grad Survey anticipate hiring one or more new grads in 2014 and many of these organizations are already leaning heavily on higher education institutions in order to make the right hire.
Their recruitment of these new graduates is heavily dependent on the resources provided by colleges and universities, namely career center websites, alumni contacts, college job fairs, and internship programs.
Particularly at organizations that have already established a strong campus presence or other relationships with professors or career center staff, both the school and the organization are well positioned should they choose to enhance their collaborative efforts to include training or other workforce development programs.