Universities to Play Critical Role in Closing the Skills Gap

Apr 4, 2017 at 12:00am ET By Joanna Hughes

The bad news? Nearly half of employers believe that college graduates lack key skills expected of them at the time of hiring, according to a recent Student Development Survey from the UK’s Association of Graduate Recruiters (AGR). The good news? Not only can these skills can be acquired in a relatively short period of time, but universities can play an important role in the process.

A Soft Skills Gap

According to AGR CEO Stephen Isherwood, candidates straight out of universities often fall short of expectations in terms of both people skills and “fundamental understanding” of the workplace. Based on the findings of AGR’s survey of 174 organizations about the issue,  Isherwood proposes that today’s graduates need “the ability to work with people and get things done when things go wrong.”

Where Universities Fit Into the Picture

The study reveals that while employers believe that the best time for students to learn the majority of soft skills is in elementary school, colleges can play a pivotal role in closing the gap when working alongside employers. In fact, more than half of employers believe that a joint effort between schools and employers could reverse this trend in as little as a year.

Said Isherwood, “Skills work needs to start early. Leaving it just to universities and employers is too late. We need to see more emphasis on coordinated development across schools, universities and businesses rather than expecting higher education to take all of the brunt for preparing graduates for work….By the time students reach university and employment essential employability skills should be ingrained, so it's just a matter of refinement. A focus on soft-skills will develop better students, more productive employees and more engaged citizens.”

The only skill employers did believe was best cultivated in college, meanwhile? Resiliency. So the next time you fail a test or get a less-than-stellar grade on an assignment, chalk it up to skills development.

Read more about studying in the UK.

Joanna worked in higher education administration for many years at a leading research institution before becoming a full-time freelance writer. She lives in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire with her family.

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