In “A Smarter Way to Address the ‘Skills Gap'”, my friend and former colleague Joe Henry discusses an emerging and broadening debate in Canadian higher education – are our graduates adequately prepared for the jobs we claim we’re training them for?
I had the privilege of working with Joe Henry in my earlier years as a Student Affairs professional, and continue to appreciate his unique perspective on student life. Joe’s combined lens of more traditional student development theory and insight into working with students with learning and other developmental challenges is evident in his article “A Smarter Way to Address the Skills Gap” as published in The Student Affairs Feature.
The skills gap, as Joe mentions, as an international challenge that sees many of our graduates walk off the convocation stage only with a clear path back to their seat. The merits of pursuing many options and the virtues of an adventurous life notwithstanding, it remains a troublesome reality that our students are as frustratingly undecided about their careers leaving the institution as they are when they began with us a few short years before. As our websites and publications continue to tout our programs as being ‘industry focused’, highlighting impressive statistics about job placements and employee satisfaction, this dissonance raises real concerns not just for the students’ futures, but the future of our global economy as well.
Joe rightly and strongly advocates for better collaboration and cooperation across, rather than solely within, different sectors. Government and industry are vital partners to our institutions, rather than simply ‘consumers’ of our end ‘products’. We need to know what skills they are looking for, why they’re important and how best to deliver the training needed to students match their employability requirements. Where Joe’s article is unique, however, is in his insistence that “It is not simply about ‘skills training’. It also has to be about training for the right skills that are needed now and into the future.”
This long-term approach speaks to more than ongoing training. Joe speaks to the need for instilling a lifelong love of learning with more concrete and complete information about opportunities after graduation. When combined, these ideas can better equip students with the knowledge they need to make career decisions, coupled with the motivation, skill and strength of character to pursue the best, not the easiest or most readily apparent, option. We owe it to our students, and the future of our countries, to develop students as citizens, not just students as workers. The gap, then, does not seem to be one of skills but rather one of resiliency, flexibility, grit and curiosity. Can this be taught in a classroom? Can this be shared on a career inventory results page? How will our students not only work to learn, but learn to work?
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