by • September 18, 2012 • Leading, Leaders and Leadership, Student LifeComments (2)1513

Is There A Skills Shortage in the Knowledge Economy?

I was skimming through another edition of the Academic Top TenĀ today when this headline caught my eye:

ACCC lays out priorities for 2013 federal budget

The Association of Canadian Community CollegesĀ has called on the federal government to invest funds to address what they call a “critical shortage of advanced skills facing employers.” While perhaps not old news, the fact that it is still news is what intrigues me.

The apparent dichotomy between knowledge and skills is fascinating. When we write learning outcomes, when we write funding proposals, and even when we read institutional vision and mission statements, there remains a clear distinction between information (knowledge) and action (skills).

“Consistent with this commitment, the University will emphasize a broad and superior undergraduate education that imparts the knowledge, skills, and values so essential to educated and responsible citizens.” Auburn University

To carry out its mission, LIU Brooklyn advanced courses for specialized knowledge and graduate programs in those areas in which it has developed strength or has a unique contribution to make. In addition, the Campus has designed programs to permit students to acquire essential literacies, intellectual curiosity, analytic and reasoning skills, and effective communication skills. LIU Brooklyn

Where does knowledge end and skill begin? Do we attain a certain level of knowledge before a skill is developed? Does a particular skill bring with it a certain type of knowledge?

In this ‘knowledge economy’, knowledge can be bought, sold, traded, valued, devalued, oversold and even pulled off the shelves by public outcry or private company recall. The ‘skills shortage’ sees our students graduate without skills (or at least a high enough level of certain skills) that will help them be successful (the definition of successful continuing to be up for discussion of course).

What continues to fascinate me is that it’s one or the other. One and the other even. Skills are ‘in addition’, the ‘and’ that goes along with knowledge. I remember one conversation, long ago, where the distinction between university and college (in a Canadian context) was oversimplified by a split emphasis on knowledge (academics) and skill (trades).

Why does this difference exist? Should it?

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2 Responses to Is There A Skills Shortage in the Knowledge Economy?

  1. Larry LaFata says:

    Often times skill is still confused with knowledge by both students and Academia, Lisa. Good point made.

    For example, in 2008, state workforce development departments were offering skills training to the unemployed to which there were no jobs. They offered MS Office training for Admin positions.

    I’m not familiar with the Canadian system but I can bet the same issue is apparent: the training of skills for the knowledge economy often lags behind the real needs of employers. Students and Acaedemia are often caught flat-footed with what skills they should concentrate on to best succeed in the knowledge economy.

    What jumps to mind is that there are very few Social Media courses of any value at most higher education institutions because the technology is developing so quickly. Pinterest wasn’t even a domain name 18 months ago, and is now the 3rd largest web traffic site in the world. Yet Social media is surging in importance to knowledge based businesses as far as ranking high in the search algorithms of Google and Bing.

    So as hard as Universities try, they can’t teach all disciplines to all students, especially because there is an overlap between knowledge and skills.

    I believe there is partial responsibility on the student to discern what skills are in demand and what knowledge will build those skills.

  2. Hey Lisa,
    I think you are on the right path with your thoughts/ramblings (as you call it). I do think that the Canadian higher education system offers more of a combination for the theoretical and applied academic work. With hybrid degrees between universities and community colleges, and post-bachelor certificates that offer academic and internship experience – I think that there are some excellent blended programs that offer scholarship and practical skill development. I think you would be a fan of “actionable knowledge” and more scholar-practitioner roles that are available in certain disciplines (HR, management, etc). Let’s chat sometime. Thanks for starting the conversation.

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