More Collaboration Needed to Close Skills Gap

December 28, 2012

A newsworthy number came out of McKinsey & Company’s recently released report Education to Employment: Designing a System That Works: according to estimates by the International Labour Organization, 75 million young people are unemployed worldwide. When taking into account the number of young people underemployed, 75 million triples to an even more astounding 225 million.

McKinsey & Company recommends directing attention to skills development and job creation to address the problem, though the research mostly focuses on how to connect what is learned in the classroom to the competencies needed to secure employment. The problem is not a lack of solutions that bridge education to employment—the trouble is that existing programs need to have greater reach to escape our downward “skills gap” spiral.

So what are these solutions that we hear time and time again, but do not implement in a way that will have sufficient impact? Thought leaders participating in McKinsey & Company’s webinar on the report agree that the key is to further open the lines of communication between education and business.

McKinsey found a startling disconnect between the expectations of educators and the consumers of the education system. Fewer than half of youth and employers participating believe that new graduates are adequately prepared for entry-level positions. Education providers, on the other hand, overwhelmingly believe just the opposite; with 72% believing new graduates are ready to work.

All sides stand to benefit from relationships that link academic programs, curriculum, and industry expertise to potential jobs and workforce needs. This idea is by no means groundbreaking but there is far too little collaboration taking place and simultaneously, obvious disagreement among the key stakeholders on what value a college education provides.

We’ve seen some collaborative efforts, such as Central Piedmont Community College and Siemens Energy’s partnership, that have made a local impact. But the truth is most, if not all, of these relationships have not been brought to scale in a way that will move the country by the necessary margin for our ultimate viability in an international economy.

Christine Evans-Klock, director of skills and employability with the International Labour Organization, believes that providing better access to labor market information to students and families and creating or expanding institution-based industry skills councils will achieve a more systemic approach to the problem at hand. Jorge Guerra, the executive director of workforce education and partnerships at Miami Dade College, asserted we will not get very far in making progress if we don’t make a concerted effort to work together and adjust what is taught to students.

We have an opportunity here—we know the challenges that are sure to come, but we also know that there are actions we can take to start to fix the many problems at hand. And we must start somewhere, or there will be a lot more unemployed “fill in the blank” jokes than the doctor/lawyer/nun ones we have now. That might be great for Conan O’Brien, but it’s terrible for the American people.