Employability & the Skills Gap / by Emi Day

Originally posted on The Third Teacher + blog.

Recently, I’ve been concerned about the “skills gap,” a term describing the situation where employers complain that graduating students don’t have the skills to qualify for available jobs, while educators still believe their students are ready.  Having just made the leap from 7 years of higher education to entry-level employment, I feel that this is a ripe opportunity to reflect on this transition.

My main objective here is to reframe the question of why graduates lack skills for available jobs, and ask instead why graduates are not emotionally ready for employment.

I’d like to tackle the idea that once you graduate, you’re done. You’re set, you believe you’ve acquired enough knowledge and know-how to start changing lives and taking names. Let’s look at that a bit more closely. 

1. We already know that you don’t have to graduate from school to start something. You don’t have to earn a degree to do anything anymore. Some people recognize that school is just the fertile ground (diverse people, creative tools, crazy ideas) to GET GOING.  

How can we support students to run with their ideas into the real world? How can we change the metaphor of schools from employee factories (economy-centered) to leadership academies (student-centered)?

2. Different people take varying amounts of time to realize who they are and what they want to do.  When you graduate, it does not show how self-aware a person is.  For some people, looking for a job is the first time they’ve had to test their values against an organizations’.  It’s the first time that they realize we must each find a unique way to serve society; ideally, create their own position or niche. 

How can we create more time for focused reflection during school so that when training is over, young people know how to use their own internal compass?

3. Graduation is the end of formal institutional training, but learning is never over. Becoming educated must mean to learn how you, yourself learn; how you, yourself are motivated; how you, yourself, are inspired. Learning is simply a nimble mind: It’s open enough to accept new/challenging information, but closed enough to filter out spam.  It’s capable of making quick judgments but careful enough to reevaluate them later. It’s recalling main ideas but applying and sharing them to relevant people and situations going forward. 

How can we instill a fundamental love of challenging oneself to stimulate a lifelong learning mentality? How can we support and validate alternative paths to education?

Over the last year I’ve had great laughs about the Skills Gap- talking to my peers about meaningless degrees, collaborating with students to design our own education , and participating on OpenIDEO’s challenge to get young people employed. Fundamentally, it’s not about a skills gap, it’s about a mindset gap. We need graduates who know themselves enough to pursue a fitting opportunity, who are devoted to learning when it gets weird, and who strive to work with people they admire.