Written by Joanna Hughes

The 'skills gap' is a frequent topic of conversation for educators and employers alike. Which begs the question: Are colleges sending their graduates out in the world with the skills they need to succeed in their careers? A recent Harvard Business Review (HBR) article takes a closer look at the issue. Here’s what you need to know.

“A Clear Premium on Education”

An abundance of evidence points to the fact that the return on investment (ROI) of a university degree is at an all-time high. However, as more people attend college and get degrees, their value decreases.

For example, having a college degree in Scandinavia -- where 40 percent of the adult population is college-educated -- equates to a nine percent increase in earnings. Comparatively,  in sub-Saharan Africa -- where far fewer people go to college -- the earnings boost spikes to 20 percent. Furthermore, as university qualifications become more common, there’s increasing demand for these credentials -- whether or not they are strictly necessary for the job at hand.

A Push for a Paradigm Shift

HBR  calls for colleges to shift their focus to address how they can help their graduates be job-ready.

Specifically, HBR proposes that colleges should spend more time cultivating soft skills in students. “Recruiters and employers are unlikely to be impressed by candidates unless they can demonstrate a certain degree of people-skills. This is perhaps one of the biggest differences between what universities and employers look for in applicants. While employers want candidates with higher levels of EQ, resilience, empathy, and integrity, those are rarely attributes that universities nurture or select for in admissions,” argues HBR.

In our tech-centric world, this approach also acknowledges the importance of workers who can do tasks that machines cannot.

The takeaway? While there are challenges facing today’s employers, there is also massive growth potential for colleges and students. “There is also a huge opportunity for colleges to restore their relevance by helping to fill the learning gap many managers face when they are promoted into a leadership role,” HBR concludes.

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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