What can universities do to bridge the skills gap?
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What can universities do to bridge the skills gap?

What can universities do to bridge the skills gap?

Nearly two-thirds of the 165 million jobs in the US economy this year will require higher education qualifications, according to the Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University.

This coincides with the rising cost of university, sky-high levels of student debt, and a mismatch between employer needs and employee skillsets. 

Even with trade schools and community colleges in the picture, the creation of new jobs and retirement of baby boomers are anticipated to leave five million vacancies unfilled – that is, at the rate degrees are being granted today. 

How can US institutions begin to close this gap? Financial services conglomerate JP Morgan posits three ideas that are already seeing gradual implementation nationwide. 

Increase access and completion

A report by The Economist suggests that the return on investment of a college degree is at an all-time high for young people. However, the value of their qualification decreases when more people are graduating in their country. 

At the same time, the widening of the income gap deems it crucial that more young Americans earn tertiary qualifications to even enter the job market.

To this end, more colleges and universities are amping up financial and assistance programmes for minority or underprivileged communities. One example is the Latino U College Access in New York, which provides culturally-sensitive training to prepare low-income high school students to apply, prepare and pay for college.  

In order for efforts such as these to bear fruit, more institutions must beef up admissions counselling as well as student engagement and support, thus ensuring consistent course enrolment and completion.

Evolve with career opportunities

American employers are struggling to fill jobs in skilled trades, information technology, accounting and finance, among others. Labour market experts said 47 percent of all new job openings from 2010 to 2020 will fall into the middle-skills range. This refers to jobs that require more education and training than a high school diploma but less than a four-year college degree.

At the same time, arts curricula are gaining favour among employers for their development of strategic thinking skills that are so critical in middle management roles.

This alludes to the importance of soft skills in fortifying industry-relevant capabilities. Together, they can drive up graduate employment in fulfilling careers.

Partner with local corporations and employers

Understanding regional labour demands and trends will help institutions better tailor programme offerings and point them towards suitable corporate training and employment partnerships. 

This approach requires proactive measures from the nation’s largest corporations. For example, the Boeing Advanced Research Center lab at the University of Washington has been engaging local school students in annual “Discovery Days” for five years now. The initiative serves to excite and inspire them to become America’s future scientists and aviation experts.

On top of that, JP Morgan says that several manufacturers are already bringing outsourced manufacturing jobs back to the US to boost domestic jobs. As stated in the report, “Our nation’s demand for innovative technology continues to grow and will require retraining of workers, something postsecondary institutions are well equipped to do.”

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