Higher Education and Today’s Workforce

Many higher education officials are blind to the difference between what companies need and the skills graduates have when they enter the workforce.

According to research, 96% of higher education academic leaders say their institutions effectively prepare students for the job market. However, only 11% of business leaders strongly agree with this statement.

This imbalance has serious consequences for companies. Companies in major sectors report being unable to grow and compete due to a lack of skilled talent. As a result, workstations are left vacant 49% of the time.

In addition, 37% of businesses are unable to undertake new projects or major efforts due to this shortage.

Companies aren’t the only ones seeing the gap between what employers want and what graduates know. Just over a third of students think they are ready for a job. Additionally, more than half of recent graduates are unemployed or underemployed.

Only 16% of the general public believe a four-year degree prepares students for a well-paying job in today’s economy. In a recent Gallup poll, 40% of bachelor’s graduates would choose another major if they could go back.

People are still pursuing higher education

Despite the value of a college diploma increasingly questioned, enrollment rates in higher education have remained stable. In fact, they’ve fallen by less than 2% per year since 2013. Meanwhile, 44 million Americans owe $1.3 trillion in student loans in 2017.

Many students are still enrolling in higher education programs. And in many cases, they take on large amounts of student loan debt. This despite the fact that they have no assurance that their investment will pay off in the form of use.

How do we ensure students are adequately prepared to complete programs leading to potential career paths?

Efforts to link higher education and labor demands

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation recognizes best practices from institutions of higher learning. They notice those who try to realign education with the workforce. They even launched a study called Learning to work, work to learn.

These case studies illustrate a number of common ways to establish employer-educator relationships. This helps ensure that students enter the job market better able to start careers.

Learning in the workplace

Integrating work-based learning into classroom and out-of-class experiences is an effective method. Gallup has discovered that students who participate in internships have an advantage. When students can apply their learning in the classroom, they are more likely to secure full-time jobs after graduation.

Work-based learning, including projects or simulated experiences, can help. Therefore, the goal is to increase the number of students who have the opportunity to participate in work-based learning.

Therefore, more alternatives and points of contact should be available throughout a student’s education. Companies that work with a school’s career services office are a particularly effective technique. This allows them to integrate work-based learning into educational programs.

Career Services and Higher Education

Education officials should not view the student as the sole client of their services. In some ways, partner employers play an important role in recognizing how higher education can lead to a successful career.

More than half of US college graduates report having visited the Career Services office at least once during their undergraduate experience. However, a recent Gallup poll found that they are just as likely to say their experience was not helpful at all.

To help the students they serve, career development teams need to build long-term relationships with companies. In addition, career services employees should be familiar with what is going on in other companies. This includes labor market data and what it reveals about jobs in demand.

Better data

Research reveals that half of the American population would change their subject of study, degree level or institution of higher education. It is therefore obvious that pupils need more information on the results of the various educational pathways.

The Launch My Career consumer information website highlights in-demand jobs available in certain regions or states. It also shows which programs provide effective pathways to these jobs. For entry-level and full-time students, as well as those planning to upgrade, Launch provides program-level outcome data.

Additionally, Launch provides career awareness information along with a hands-on exercise. In it, students determine how long it would take to achieve their lifestyle goals based on their program of study.

Students should focus on the best exit strategies

In recent decades, much of the study and conversation regarding higher education has focused on college admissions. In other words, it is about who, where and how students enter universities and schools.

However, as the workforce changes, higher education must also change. Therefore, we need to focus more on the best exit methods for students leaving college and entering the job market. This is more important than focusing solely on entry into post-secondary education.

Businesses and educational institutions can collaborate to better connect higher education and the workforce. In doing so, they ensure that graduates enter the workforce with the knowledge and skills they need to succeed.

Image Credit: Favis Sanchez; pexels; Thank you!

Amanda J. Marsh