Updated: Nov 2, 2022
The Skills Gap
Much longer ago than I would like to remember I received my bachelor’s degree in Management Science from a midsized public institution in Massachusetts. Shortly after my graduation I recall printing several dozen copies of my resume and walking “door-to-door” in and around the Financial District of Boston dropping off those resumes in human resources offices at whatever company would let me in the front door. Other than a daily stop for lunch and two visits to the famous Filene’s Basement for new suits I did this for three weeks. That work finally paid off several weeks later when I received a call from Putnam Investments, and I was eventually offered a job pricing mutual funds for $12,000 per year.
I recall my first day vividly imagining a nice office with an assistant and then coming down to reality when I was directed to my desk which was side by side with dozens of other desks occupied by other recent graduates. I also recall I knew nothing about the job that I had just started and nothing specific I learned in college had a direct connection to what I was about to learn.
At that time there was no discussion of a skills gap. Just an expectation that I would show up, listen, learn, and work as many hours as it took to complete the tasks assigned by my superiors. Today, the skills gap is an often-discussed challenge faced by employers. Business Roundtable defines the skills gap as, “This difference between the skills that employers are looking for and the training and experience that candidates possess.” The complexity of technology is certainly one cause for this gap. A second strong contender is the lack of soft skills new graduates bring into the workplace.
Over the past decade as colleges have pivoted to a student-focused model from an academic model they have invested heavily in student wellness and preparing students for work after graduation. However, employers are still struggling to find the talent they need, with almost 40% telling McKinsey they’re "unable to find people with the qualifications even for entry-level jobs, and graduates are frustrated.”
With a labor market shortage in most sectors employees can achieve career and personal goals by changing jobs. This same shortage has resulted in a longer timeframe for employers to fill vacancies, adversely impacting productivity. Employers can increase retention and employee satisfaction through upskilling or reskilling existing employees. “According to a recent survey, nearly all of the employees would continue with their existing workplace longer if they are empowered training and opportunities for growth exist.”
Colleges are facing a trend of softening enrollments and there are an increasing number of high school students that are considering entering the workforce and bypassing college when they graduate. The cost of tuition is one reason why. colleges have recognized this trend and are finding ways to address it. A creative solution is being explored by a group of 13 institutions that developed a concept called College in 3. This program will allow students to complete their undergraduate degree in three years. Other schools recently announced significant tuition reductions to attract students. These steps will begin to address the concern of the cost of tuition but will not address the skills gap which may adversely impact retention.
“In a Gallup poll, 12% of adults said they would earn a different type of degree if given the chance to rewind time, and 36% said they would choose a different field of study altogether.” https://tinyurl.com/2nkaptp9 Colleges may need to reduce the number of degrees offered to students or provide more flexibility to students to move between programs while still staying on track for graduation in four years (or now even three). This may reduce the skills gap for those students who would have graduated with a degree that is less applicable to the job market.
Jointly, employers and colleges need to develop programs that enhance the soft skills necessary for every college graduate entering the modern workplace.