Unlike in the wildly popular Hunger Games trilogy, where contestants are pitted against each other in a fight to the death and there can only be one victor while the rest perish, I think when it comes to closing the skills gap there’s room for more than just one approach.
The arguments squarely for or against formal education (i.e., degrees) versus training or credentialing as a means to close the skills gap are constantly bandied about, but I don’t necessarily think it’s a matter of one versus the other across the board.
Over the past two months, I was fortunate to attend the HR Technology Conference and Expo 2013 in Las Vegas as well as The Close It Summit 2013 in Washington, D.C., where thought leaders and executives from various realms of business and education discussed ways to close the current skills gap.
After skimming through my endless pages of notes, I settled on these four overarching highlights that stood out in my mind. Take a look and tell me what you agree with, what you don’t and where on the spectrum you fall.
Credentialing and skill building is gaining steam. “Today’s war for talent is about focusing on scarce competences and critical roles,” HR thought leader Naomi Bloom said at HR Tech. That’s why, according to her, skill building and credentialing will exceed popularity of people getting degrees. Employers today are more reluctant to spend a lot of money to get employees degrees, because times have changed and people don’t spend their entire career at one company anymore.
Focus on education AND skills. “Education is very important, but employers need to hire not only on degrees but also on skills,” according to Jamai Blivin, CEO and founder of Innovate+Educate, a non-profit focused on advancing changes in education and the workforce. At The Close It Summit, she went on to describe the disconnect or mismatch between candidates who have degrees and the skills that employers are looking for. “There are candidates who look good on paper who do not have the skills to do the job,” Blivin said.
Have you picked up your copy of The Talent Equation yet? It’s an invaluable resource that uses big data to help close the skills gap – and would make a great holiday gift for that special someone on your list (i.e., your boss).
Education should teach people HOW to think. In the past, knowledge may have been king, but today it’s all available on the Internet — people need to know what to do with the knowledge they have. That’s a simple but profound statement made at The Close It Summit.
One panelist demonstrated this with an example about how as part of her research, most people with graduate degrees failed a relatively simple math test, leading to the argument: It’s not how much math you know, but can you actually use it in the real world?
“Today we don’t need to teach students what to think but how to think,” said Patricia Buhler, a professor of management at Goldey-Beacom College. Buhler said degrees do matter, but they must arm students with skills deemed by businesses as essential. That’s education’s role in closing the skills gap – to graduate career-ready people who can meet today and tomorrow’s business needs.
Community colleges can play a more strategic role. It was interesting to hear a lot of chatter at The Close It Summit about the role of community colleges in the greater education debate. Perhaps not given as much attention as it has deserved in the past, there was much talk about the inherent information gap (not just the skills gap).
In other words, where are the jobs? What skills are required to perform these jobs? How can we resolve the misalignment between what employers want and what education offers? How can employers create a supply chain with community colleges to fill this gap? As one panelist put it, “Community colleges need to do the work to figure out what employers need.” And that’s not a one-way street.
What are YOU doing to close the skills gap? (Not ignoring it, we hope.) Are you investing more heavily in formal education or training — and if so, why is it right for you? Leave a comment below or drop us a tweet or Facebook post. And may the odds be ever in your favor.