Does the Skills Gap Really Exist?

The term “skills gap” is used frequently in education and across industries from manufacturing to marketing and healthcare to information technology, but do we know what it means or if it truly exists? Colleges and other higher education institutions are tasked with preparing students for a successful career and employers rely on these institutions to provide well-trained talent to add to their workforce.

According to a survey conducted by CareerBuilder, more than half of the 1,025 employers surveyed reported that they have open jobs they cannot find qualified candidates to fill. Eighty-one percent of employers reported that it is at least somewhat difficult to fill job vacancies. Employers often define the skills gap as a combined lack of technical and soft skills needed to perform a position effectively.

There are arguments over whether there truly is a skills gap in America, but the problem may be in the name – skills gap. The definition varies depending on who you ask and from which industry they represent. Regardless how it is defined, that fact remains that employers are having a difficult time filling open positions.

Bridging Education with Employment

In order to effectively prepare students for a career in their desired industry and ensure employers are getting what they need, collaboration between higher education institutions and employers is essential.

While most college students receive an overarching curriculum with courses that provide training necessary to enter the workforce, it seems not all higher education institutions are offering opportunities for hands-on learning. Students who are able to apply the skills they are learning prior to entering the workforce can gain valuable experience.

The following are ways in which higher education institutions can ensure they are properly preparing students with the skills to fulfill employer needs.

Employer Input in Curriculum

Depending on the industry, the needs of employers and the wants of employees will vary. Ninety-six percent of employers who took part in the CareerBuilder survey indicated that they think academic organizations should be talking to employers about job skills they look for in candidates.

Some colleges feature program advisory committees, which are comprised of professionals who offer critical industry-related insight to higher education professionals. The higher education institutions are able to take the information gained during these committee meetings to ensure degree programs include appropriate curriculum changes.

Applied Learning

Higher education institutions who offer applied learning and service learning projects as part of program curriculum can further prepare students with on-the-job-type training while they are still enrolled. Students enrolled in a medical assisting program, who spend time completing a project alongside medical assistants in a clinic learn the ins and outs of a medical clinic while receiving class credit. Information technology students who assist an organization with a systems audit learn the importance of working within a team in a real-world setting.

The experience gained in applied learning and service learning projects can be included on students’ resumes and directly applied to future positions.

Internships

When higher education institutions require or recommend internships to their students, they are not only providing students a unique opportunity to learn from industry professionals, but also allowing employers inexpensive labor and on-the-job training to a potential future employee. Higher education institutions who build internship experiences into their curriculum are also able to network with local employers, creating a long-lasting relationship that can provide opportunities to future students.

The resounding truth is that higher education institutions and employers need to increase collaboration to alleviate any skills gap that exists. Students who collaborate with employers throughout their higher education experience are able to learn additional skills not gained while in a classroom and employers are able to assist in producing the ideal employee.