- Colleges and universities are responding at varying rates to what The Manpower Group says is a skills "chasm," versus gap, reports The New York Times.
- From creating one-semester minor programs, which allow students to stack cross-curricular competencies on top of each other, to implementing certificate programs and emphasizing apprenticeships, the institutions that are doing this issue well are re-considering the entire higher education model.
- The best programs are hyper aware of industry feedback, and even working directly with employers to train students, as is the case with Lake Area Technical Institute, whose president told the NYT its success is based around "[t]ightly knit student cohorts in clearly defined graduation paths with close connections to their industry-trained instructors."
Institutions and departments can no longer afford to work in silos to set curricula or even graduation pathways. Working closely with those who will be hiring the eventual graduates to develop internships, apprenticeships and hands-on training opportunities for students is critical. And, involving those same employers to make sure the competencies and skills being taught are in line with the current workforce needs is essential as well. But just as important as working with industry is promoting a cross-departmental approach to curricular design that ensures students are not only trained for specific competencies, but are prepared as thinkers and analyzers to tackle whatever jobs they may encounter along their career paths.
This cross-disciplinary, collaborative approach to learning has been a hallmark of liberal arts education, a reality that has seen less focus as much of the national conversation has positioned college as more of a four-year vocational program designed to guarantee students jobs upon completion. But while there must be an emphasis on student outcomes — particularly as students and families invest more skin in the game with the rising costs of college — the four-year institution was never intended to exclusively guarantee jobs. And, that shift away from promoting thinking and citizenship in addition to tangible skills has left employers with an applicant pool that is largely not meeting their needs.