Why Our Education System Is Responsible for Closing the Skills Gap

By Dan Schawbel

Back in 2013, I came across an interview with SHRM Foundation President Mark Schmit in The Wall Street Journal, in which he was asked what issues in Human Resources he heard about most frequently. His answer: "the skills gap," the gap between the skills with which recent graduates are equipped and the skills that are actually needed in the workforce. Since then I've been on a mission to close the gap between what's taught at institutions of higher learning and what's needed in the real world of employment, and between job seekers and employers.


I pay close attention to the Bureau of Labor Statistics report on "Job Openings and Labor Turnover, which is released monthly. The last report showed there are 5.4 million job openings in America, up from 4.5 million several months back. In spite of these promising numbers, many people are complaining they can't find work. The reason behind this disparity is less that the job market is competitive, and more that these candidates lack the right skills, skills they should be learning in our education system.

In my fourth year partnering with PayScale, we found that while 87 percent of students feel they are prepared for their job upon graduation, only 50 percent of managers agree, complaining that recent graduates lack critical skills. Of these, 44 percent of managers feel writing proficiency is the hard skill lacking the most college graduates, followed by public speaking at 39 percent. In line with those findings, in my previous research, I've found college recruiters are looking for communication skills when hiring, and managers are looking for communication skills when deciding who to promote.

What does this research illustrate? Our school system continues to focus on topics that aren't relevant in the professional world. Furthermore, colleges keep increasing their tuition, yet their curriculums are becoming more and more irrelevant; they simply aren't adjusting fast enough to keep up with the demands of companies. I've always said that companies and colleges need to work together more closely. School presidents need to meet with heads of HR to discuss the skills required in the modern workplace and then create a curriculum that produces students who possess those skills. For instance, based on this data from PayScale, it's obvious that no student should be given a degree without taking both a writing and speaking course.

Since companies rely so much on our school system, and schools rely so much on job placement metrics for attracting new students, both need to be serious about creating a more involved relationship. The skills gap is a problem for everyone, leaving companies with job openings that are unfilled, and leaving students without jobs but with many thousands of dollars in student loan payments. If schools and companies start working together more closely, we'll move closer to closing the gap, a move that will benefit everyone.

Dan Schawbel is a New York Times bestselling author, serial entrepreneur, Fortune 500 consultant, millennial TV personality, global keynote speaker, career and workplace expert and startup advisor. He is a Partner and Research Director at Future Workplace, Founder of Millennial Branding and bestselling author of Promote Yourself and Me 2.0. Through his companies, he's conducted 30 research studies, interviewed 1,600 people, written over 2,000 articles and spoken at over 100 conferences, companies and Universities. Schawbel has been recognized on both the Inc. and Forbes Magazine 30 Under 30 List and has been interviewed in over 1,200 media outlets such as NBC, FOX, CNBC, PBS and NPR.

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