by • January 20, 2014 • Professional DevelopmentComments (2)2179

Closing the Skills Gap – An SA Feature Article Review

I excitedly accepted a request from Matt Bloomingdale to review articles from The Student Affairs Feature, a fantastic new addition to my regular professional reading library. 

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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2 Responses to Closing the Skills Gap – An SA Feature Article Review

  1. Amma Marfo says:

    I love that you’re doing this, Lisa! It adds a level of depth to the conversation that these pieces are sparking, in a venue that allows for greater exploration of thought.

    “This means highlighting the importance of continuing to learn and equipping students in our academic programs to be flexible and resilient.”

    I love this element of Joe’s philosophy, because it allows for flexibility of needs for a student’s chosen path, AND also offers a means to help students who are truly unsure of what they want. With a focus on placement statistics, defined paths, and career preparation, we run the risk of leaving the truly undecided and overwhelmed out of the loop. Skills preparation, coupled with an understanding that the skills are not the end point, creates an understanding that indecision or desired flexibility is okay. The path you set out on after college might not be the only one you travel, and I try to normalize that phenomenon as often as I can.

    • lmendersby says:

      Thank you, Amma! I agree – the opportunity to write a response to some of these articles has helped better form my own thoughts and ideas. There’s certainly no shortage of inspiration!

      I absolutely agree and empathize with the challenge your described of leaving those students who feel overwhelmed out of our more traditional advising and support strategies. It’s often easier to advise when there’s a plan, or at least a destination, in mind, and we can’t be faulted for wanting to help students find the ‘path of least resistance’. The problem, of course, is that no such path exists – and we do a disservice to our students by not accurately and authentically talking about the challenges they’ll face. This whole argument aligns with one of my higher education pet peeves of calling anything outside of our day to day institutional operations as ‘the real world’. Life in the building is no more ‘IRL’ than when the student leaves for the day. I doubt we make that distinction ourselves, so why should our students?

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