Entrepreneurs 3/04/2014 @ 12:00AM 39,017 vi
It’s a well-publicized reality that job growth is not consistent with the increase in the number of college graduates, and the unemployment crisis is a major concern for many countries.
And yet, employers and business leaders are beginning to insist that their demand for talent is not being met by the current supply. A survey by the Workforce Solutions Group at St. Louis Community College finds that more than 60 percent of employers say applicants lack crucial “communication and interpersonal skills.” According to Martha White’s “The Real Reason College Grads Can’t Get Hired,” a large percentage of managers also say today’s applicants can’t think critically and creatively, solve problems, or write well.
You heard it right. Despite the fact that employers are in a position to have their pick of the crop, they still can’t find what they’re looking for – a fact which begs the question: Are we dealing with an employment crisis? Or an education crisis?
“It’s interesting to see how the definition of the skills gap has evolved from being so heavily focused on technical and computer skills to ‘soft’ skills related to communication and creativity,” says Janette Marx, Senior Vice President at Adecco Staffing U.S. This new talent gap, then, refers to an absence of attributes that are necessary for blue-collar workers and CEOs alike. According to Marx, “Educational institutions may overlook these elements in today’s digital age, but schools must integrate both hard and soft skill sets into their curriculums, which in turn will help better prepare candidates and strengthen our country’s workforce.”
Even though a few innovative institutions now focus on these “soft” skills, according to the recent SSIR report “Educating a New Generation of Entrepreneurial Leaders,” a vast majority of educational institutions still do not adequately prepare students to lead, collaborate with others, and create positive change in the world. Skills like problem solving, leadership, teamwork, empathy, and social/emotional intelligence are still being left out of the curricula of most schools, which contributes to the widening of the talent gap.
In a New York Times interview in February 2014, Laszlo Bock – the Vice President for People Operations at Google – said that GPAs and test scores are worthless criteria for hiring and that almost 14 percent of some Google teams consist of people without any college education. While good grades don’t hurt and specialized skill sets are required for many jobs, there are some hiring attributes that make prospective employees more desirable to employers all over the world: leadership, personal and intellectual humility, the ability to attribute some purpose to your work, and the ability to take ownership of the task at hand. Bock mused that while you can train new employees for many technical abilities, a candidate without these personal characteristics was a non-starter.
Aaron Hurst is an Ashoka Fellow and the CEO of Imperative, a new organization that aims to connect people to their professional purpose. At the Ashoka U Exchange held at Brown University last month, Hurst explained his view that we have gradually made a transition from being an industrial economy to a service economy to most recently, a purpose-based economy – a shift which undoubtedly puts much greater emphasis on personal relationships and teamwork as the backbone to our work, rather than a straightforward exchange of goods or services. “It’s not about the skills you have,” he said, “but how you approach your work.”
That said, there are still industries that require specific hard-skill education – in science, engineering, and accounting, for example – as a pre-requisite to employment. But due to an inability either to communicate or simply to cooperate, we have the much-talked-about “STEM crisis.” These industries and the educational institutions that are meant to be preparing their future employees appear to be failing to jointly equip American students with the proper education. This poses another education crisis altogether; not only are many graduates ill prepared with regards to “soft skills,” but they may also lack the “hard skills” that would make them most employable. The result of this could be an economy of jobs that cannot be filled, at least within the US.
As a response to this, Ashoka Fellow Rafael Alvarez, Founder and CEO of Genesys Works and another participant at the Ashoka U Exchange, started his organization “to enable economically disadvantaged high school students to enter and thrive in the economic mainstream by providing them the knowledge and work experience required to succeed as professionals.” Alvarez believes that accomplishing this will require “the full integration of business and education to engage the next generation of low-income students into the professional occupations” and “a school accountability system that measures how schools are preparing students for life after K-12.”
It seems that what’s needed is clear: a collaborative effort by employers and educational leaders to shape the most urgent directives for the future of education, with the help of extensive two-way feedback. As workforce demographics and skills keep shifting rapidly, education policy leaders, university systems, and industry leaders must come together to create a national “talent management” strategy in order to build a competitive workforce. By proactively nurturing “changemaker” skills like empathy, creativity, and leadership among current and prospective employees and modifying the education system to provide market-relevant hard skills, we can perhaps hope to bridge this widening talent gap.
Rukmini Banerjee (@RukminiBanerjee) is currently in her second year of the M.A. in Conflict Resolution program at Georgetown University. She is an intern with Ashoka’s Empathy Initiative.