5 Ideas for Closing the Skills Gap

There’s a lot of emphasis in the world of higher education on helping students get jobs, but what about helping them excel at those jobs? Their academic courses are important, but real-world readiness also requires interpersonal skills that students aren’t as likely to be taught or graded on (at least not directly), such as teamwork, communication, leadership, and professionalism.

These soft skills are just as important as industry-specific know-how and other “hard skills.” A student who gets straight A’s in all the right classes may have no trouble getting hired, but they are not likely to thrive at work and rise in the ranks if they don’t know how to conduct themselves effectively and appropriately.

Many employers say that when it comes to soft skills, recent college graduates aren’t making the grade, and that they require significant additional training. In fact, a National Association of Colleges and Employers survey found that less than half of employers considered recent college graduates adequately professional and hardworking, or skilled enough in communication and leadership.

And students are aware of this skills gap too: According to a McGraw-Hill Education survey, only 4 in 10 college students feel very or extremely prepared for their future careers.

If your institution is preparing your students to land a job, but not to be ready to contribute on day one, you run the risk of employers becoming wary of hiring your graduates and of students not enrolling for fear they won’t come away with the job skills they need to get their careers started on the right foot.

Experiences That Can Help Lessen The Skills Gap

Many colleges and universities are embracing or deepening their commitment to these real-world experiences to help lessen the skills gap:

1. Internships

A good internship is about much more than getting coffee. It can help students get hands-on work experience in their preferred field, make important contacts, and see how they’ll be expected to conduct themselves in the workplace. Many institutions have a dedicated office that helps match students with internships, and some require that students complete an internship as part of their degree.

2. Mentoring and Job Shadowing

College and universities are always looking for new ways to engage alumni. Asking them to share their expertise with current students by mentoring them or allowing students to shadow them at work can increase alumni engagement while better preparing students for the working world.

3. Co-ops

A co-op, or cooperative education experience, combines classroom-based education and practical work experience through relationships that colleges and universities develop with employers. Co-op work terms are usually longer than a standard 12-week internship, giving students the opportunity to deepen their understanding of their field and what it takes to excel in it.

4. Credential/Degree Combination

A new trend in higher education combines a traditional degree with a credential, such as a certificate or license, that requires time spent working in a student’s chosen field, and is sometimes called a stackable degree. This can help students build a skill set that prioritizes soft skills alongside hard skills and prepare them to continue learning at their first job and throughout their career.

5. Volunteer Opportunities

Encouraging students to volunteer isn’t just good for town and gown relations – some of the soft skills that make for a valuable volunteer, like teamwork, communication, and professionalism, are also the skills that make for a valuable employee.

Let Students Know About These Opportunities

It’s not enough just to have programs like these. Telling prospective and current students that soft skills are key to a high-paying, successful career, and showing them what your school does to teach those skills should be part of your higher ed marketing strategy.

Students want to know that you’ll prepare them not just to land a job, but to excel at that job from day one. Contact us to learn how Lightstream can help you get that message out.