Skills Gap or Communication Gap?

Special Focus : Who Should Solve the Skills Gap?
Life Skills October 26, 2015

Globally, 73 million young people are looking for work. Yet, millions of vacancies remain unfilled. In May 2015, five million posts were vacant in the US while more than eight million were looking for jobs there. In countries recently surveyed by the OECD, 39 million young people are not in education or employment (NEET).

The figures offer a grim snapshot of the world of work. Universities around the world are incessantly churning out qualified graduates but employers say there is an acute shortage of skilled workers.

For employers, a college degree is no longer the only criteria that counts. So what are employees really looking for?

In today’s technology-driven economies, the demand for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) skilled labor is escalating.

In addition, labor demands are transitioning from savoir-faire to savoir-être, with a growing focus on soft skills or non-cognitive skills. Survey after survey indicate that companies around the world want to hire employees with four key traits: communication, collaboration, creativity and critical thinking.

Moreover, millennials are expected to make up 75% of the workforce by 2025, though a significant number will never be employees in the traditional sense. So as we transition into an era where machines will perform mundane tasks, we need to build a workforce of creative entrepreneurs, who will be innovative, empathetic and equipped to tackle ambiguous challenges.

So, is higher education actually equipping youth for the job market? According to McKinsey’s Education to Employment report, 70% of educators surveyed believe graduates are prepared for the job market. On the other side, less than 50% of employers and young graduates agree.

Who is responsible for the skills mismatch? Educators? Employers? Or should we blame students for choosing the wrong subjects? In my opinion, before delving deeper into this raging blame game, we need to address the perceptions gap. The McKinsey report is just one of the many indicators to reflect that educators, entrepreneurs and young graduates are not on the same page.

The first step is for professionals and professors to work together to bridge the gap between the education we have and the education we need. The second step is to make learners an integral part of this conversation and to immerse them in real world so that they get the proper information about the education they can get and what the job market really needs.

On a brighter note, innovative approaches are emerging in different corners of the world. In the United States, Cristo Rey Network schools’ Corporate Work Study Program offers underprivileged students access to high-quality education, equips them to finance a part of their education and helps them gain real-world experience. Meanwhile in Finland, Tomi Alakoski and his colleagues co-founded Me & My City, a learning concept that creates a miniature town for sixth graders. Students roleplay to act as employees, entrepreneurs, apply for jobs, discuss taxation systems – all this to learn financial and work-related skills.

And moving farther to the Middle East, Injaz al Arab is bolstering efforts to solve the severe skills gap issue that plagues the MENA region. The initiative connects young people to business leaders and professionals who act as teachers and mentors.

By immersing learners in the real world, these projects are helping them to take risks, manage results and also better understand their future career options.

So before we set off to redesign a new curriculum or decide that corporate universities and programs are the only way to resolve the job market’s real needs, educators, learners and employers have to step into each other’s worlds.

To solve the skills gap, we have to bridge this communication gap.