How to Help Students Recognize the Career Competencies They Build with Their Coursework and Close the “Articulation Gap”
The Skills Gap In Higher Education
Read any thinkpiece or report on the future of work, and you’re bound to come across the ominous moniker “the skill gap.”
(Cue Star Wars’ “Imperial March”)
According to the Brookings Institute, the “term ‘skills gap’ describes a fundamental mismatch between the skills that employers rely upon in their employees, and the skills that job seekers possess.1” And as more and more hiring managers say that skills matter more than degrees,2 closing this gap has become crucial for those in the workforce development space.
However, much of the conversation in the media revolves around the “hard skills” that employers seek for the majority of today’s in-demand jobs. So much so that many of the solutions presented simply eliminate higher education from the conversation, assuming that training programs or even employers themselves can accomplish the job more effectively and efficiently.
What is often overlooked are the “soft skills.” If you look through the competencies and skills identified by organizations like the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE),3 the World Economic Forum,4 or even McKinsey5 you’ll find more of these soft skills than you will hard skills. And as technology improves and as “jobs are likely to be lost to machines, we should embrace the opportunity to spend more time tuning and developing skills and abilities that make us human.6”
They’re not soft skills — they are human skills.
How Faculty See Career Development
From a workforce development perspective (and yes, higher education is in the business of workforce development), this presents colleges and universities with a tremendous opportunity. As we wrote in Career Access: Higher Education’s New Core Differentiator, institutions need to find a way to help them stand out in a suddenly very crowded learning ecosystem. Learners now have other faster, cheaper options that they can leverage to help them get a good job. But so many of those other options only focus on the hard skills.
Higher education has the opportunity to demonstrate its value by ensuring that learners build these human competencies in their coursework. This is at the foundation of a Career Access approach. Luckily, this is already happening. And yet learners tell us that’s not as explicit as it needs to be.7
In fact, faculty say the same thing. In a recent article for NACE, Josh Domitrovich, Executive Director of the Center for Career and Professional Development at Pennsylvania Western University (PennWest) described listening sessions he hosted with faculty as his institution went through a reorganization of career education following a merger: