Monday, March 27, 2023

Pandemic-induced skills gaps

The COVID pandemic changed lots of things, actually almost everything, about the world as we knew it. A survey of prospective employers reflects changes in work environments that call for realignment of higher education with the shifting dynamics of the workplace. While the pandemic was very significant, some educators believe that Generation Z students are equally impacted by being part of the knowledge worker industry, resulting in different levels and types of engagement in learning.

The survey of 600 HR professionals indicated that the skills gap has widened. The hard skills, which are initially most in demand when students graduate, lose their prominence after 5 years when soft skills surge back. Although 81% of the respondents believed higher education provides good return on investment, 75% believe that 5 years of experience, a college degree, or digital badges and micro-credentials are roughly equivalent.

Universities can help with skills realignment by: gathering insights on employers' needs, refining courses to conform with what learners need, analyzing the credentials that employers indicate they need, offering credentials beyond degrees, helping local workforces access employee tuition benefits, and reducing tuition and required credits. Bi-partisan support for skills-based education will likely help to align higher education with employer needs.

Perhaps an equally important issue is examining what Universities aren't addressing even in more workplace oriented initiatives. Steve Mintz suggests the list includes: "not just personal finances or leadership skills or listening and negotiation skills or public speaking, but mind-set, self-assessment, self-awareness, stress and emotional management, relationship skills, self-advocacy, networking, bouncing back from failure, and yes, career planning."

It is difficult to determine if the pandemic impacted the confidence that Americans have in gaining a college degree. However, over the last decade the overall confidence that the effort and money required to get a degree shifted from "yes" to "no" among Americans. Fifty-six percent of those polled indicated that, "A four-year college education is not worth the cost because people often graduate without specific job skills and with a large amount of debt to pay off." Ted Mitchell, President of the American Council on Education, commented "These findings are indeed sobering for all of us in higher education, and in some ways, a wake-up call... We need to do a better job at storytelling, but we need to improve our practice, that seems to me to be the only recipe I know of regaining public confidence."

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