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Bridge the Gap: What Companies Can Do About the College Skills Gap

Sammi Caramela
Sammi Caramela

There is an evident skills gap between what universities teach students and what organizations expect from employees. Recent research shows that nearly half of human resource leaders think colleges aren't preparing their students for the business world.

The survey, by The Learning House, Inc., found that a third of respondents believe colleges are most responsible for preparing students for work. The Learning House also found that 500 job openings went unfilled in the last year at 70 percent of the companies surveyed, and nearly half of them attribute this to underqualified candidates.

"U.S. companies are having trouble finding candidates with both hard and soft skills, including strategic thinking, project management, teamwork, adaptability and leadership ability," said Dan Schawbel, research director at Future Workplace and author of "Back to Human" (Da Capo Lifelong Books, 2018).

Still, 74 percent of companies are only investing $500 per employee on training and development in the workplace.

"Companies are blaming colleges for their skills gaps, yet they haven't invested enough in the learning and development of their own employees," said Schawbel. "If companies want to remain competitive and grow, they have to take the skills gap seriously."

Here's what companies can do to close the gap.

Identify the gaps.

According to research by Kiersten M. Maryott, Ph.D., and Ronald Magnuson, clinical assistant professors of business administration at the University of Pittsburgh's Katz Graduate School of Business and College of Business Administration, there is a lack of studies on gaps between skills that employers desire and skills that students possess, and no consistent understanding to what employers expect from candidates.

However, through their secondary research, Maryott stated, they found many reports about the importance of "soft skills" in recent graduates.

"There appears to be agreement that generally students are lacking in communication skills – both written and verbal, including public speaking – critical thinking, and problem solving," Maryott said.

Many skills gaps, however, are industry-specific, so it's important to speak to those teaching, working or studying in your field. But many companies don't have this insight. According to Jeremy Walsh, SVP of enterprise learning solutions at The Learning House, more than a third of companies that responded to the survey said they were unclear on their organization's skills gap.

"There are many skills that are challenging U.S. companies," said Walsh. "The hardest roles to fill are in technology and management. This signal concurs with our data that there is a blend between hard skills and soft skills that are causing the gap."

Collaborate with colleges.

A great way to bridge the skills gap is by partnering with schools to create a valuable curriculum that will benefit students and businesses alike. However, more than 40 percent of companies fail to do so.

"The current partnership between colleges and companies needs to be stronger so that employers are communicating their needs and helping co-design the curriculum so students have the right skills, at the right time, to fill their gap," said Schawbel. "When students have the right skills, they are more employable, companies fill their gap and colleges increase their placement rate."

"Faculty cannot simply keep teaching the same things from year to year to year without making adjustments based on what the market demands," added Maryott. "[Faculty and administration] need to be willing to redesign courses, add courses and even drop courses based on the needs of the market."

Schawbel recommended connecting HR representative with college presidents and deans to discuss what is missing in many applicants. Representatives can even teach courses to prepare students for the workforce.

"This new relationship can turn into a part of a school's competitive advantage because it can increase placement rates and thus the school's marketability," he said

Focus on enhancing existing skills.

Many employers are concerned about their skills training budget, but you don't have to start at square one. Instead of wasting resources to teach employees an entirely new set of skills more relevant to their career, start with what they already know and add additional skills that will compliment current and future goals.

"With more than 6 million unfilled jobs in America, the skills gap continues to stall business growth and innovation," said Schawbel. "Instead of investing more money in reskilling current employees to fill the gap, companies are betting on AI and outsourcing. We believe that training the workforce for current and future skills will be the most effective and efficient way to fill the skills gap."

Image Credit: wavebreakmedia/Shutterstock
Sammi Caramela
Sammi Caramela
Business News Daily Contributing Writer
Sammi Caramela has always loved words. When she isn't writing for and Business News Daily, she's writing (and furiously editing) her first novel, reading a YA book with a third cup of coffee, or attending local pop-punk concerts. She is also the content manager for Lightning Media Partners. Check out her short stories in "Night Light: Haunted Tales of Terror," which is sold on Amazon.