Companies Finding Unique Ways To Address The Skills Gap for College Graduates
Posted By Donna Fuscaldo on April 28, 2016 at 2:32 pm
Employers are facing a huge skills gap among college graduates, at a time when unemployment is hovering at an eight year low. And it’s a problem that companies need to address the problem – because if they don’t, jobs will be left unfilled and employers will be stuck with workers who are both unproductive and frustrated. And it’s not only a problem in the financial and technology industries. Companies of all sizes and stripes are feeling the effects of the skills gap.
“Industry analysts estimate 3.5 million manufacturing jobs will open in the next ten years,” says Glenn Johnson, Manufacturing Workforce Development Leader at BASF, the multinational chemical producer. “Projections indicate that the skills gap will leave two million of these jobs going unfilled.”
Blame it on colleges and universities around the country or on the students themselves, but either way, countless college graduates are coming out of school lacking basic communication, problem solving and critical thinking skills. That makes them unprepared for the jobs they are hired for, at a time when companies want their workers to hit the ground running. Companies realize that higher education isn’t necessarily going to give their future employees some of these soft skills they need, and as a result, they have embraced different ways to approach the problem.
Training needs to start before college
Take BASF as one example. Record investments in the U.S. by the chemical industry and a shortage of applicants for jobs – particularly ones that require more education than a high school diploma but less than a four-year degree – are creating a need for candidates with the right skills. It doesn’t help that many of the technical workers in the chemical industry will retire over the coming years, creating a bigger challenge to fill the void, says Johnson. As a result, the chemical maker has long partnered with community colleges to provide the schools with funding and guidance on curriculum and to recruit graduates.
However, recognizing that bridging the skills gap has to start earlier than college, this past summer, BASF started a program called TECH Academy, a four-day program for high school students to learn about technical careers. “While many jobs require four-year and even more advanced degrees, a significant number of great career opportunities are available to those with community college training and education,” says Johnson.
Companies want quick training for their employees
Amy Fox, Chief Executive of Accelerated Business Results, the Cincinnati-based company that creates learning products for companies including Fortune 500 enterprises, sees a lot of clients dealing with workers who aren’t performing and new hires who aren’t able to hit the ground running. “Employees in general are pretty distracted, overwhelmed and inpatient,” says Fox. “We are asked to come up with creative ways to more quickly and more uniquely address the skills gap.”
So what are Fox and her team doing to help bridge the skills gap? It’s not classroom training and it’s not even online learning. In this fast-paced, technology-driven economy, companies are embracing self-service systems where employees can access content and tools on their own, whether it’s on their mobile phone, computer or tablet. These aren’t two hour online seminars with twenty different PowerPoint slides, but three to five minute quick hits about a particular topic, whether it’s negotiating a deal or communicating better with peers. “A lot of it is micro-learning as opposed to thirty minutes of online classroom training,” says Fox. “We create YouTube-esq, white board style videos to break down a concept. People don’t have the time. They want to get the stuff they need.”
Internships become more than just copying and getting coffee
Another way to bridge the skills gap? Make internships more meaningful. Internships are a great way for students to gain real-world experience while still in school, and build the soft skills that many employers say they are lacking.The key is ensuring that internships are an opportunity to learn, rather than just busywork or menial tasks. And legislation has recently come around to reflect this – under federal law, internships must provide educational benefit to the intern, must not replace regular employees and must not provide immediate advantage to the employer. That’s all to say that the law supports the idea that internships should primarily benefit the intern, not the company they work for.
Some companies are even getting creative with the types of internships they offer. Adecco Staffing USA, the international staffing company, hosts a CEO for One Month competition that gives students a front row seat to what’s it’s like to be a CEO or top level executive. The winner of the initiative gets to shadow the CEO and other leadership executives for one month, traveling around the country and internationally and seeing what it’s like to run a Fortune 500 company.
While Adecco’s program isn’t something that it or any company can necessarily roll out on a wide scale, it does highlight the need to give students diverse and meaningful experiences in internships. It’s no longer enough for students to spend an internship making photocopies, getting coffee or doing lunch runs. “We really try to give them a well-rounded internship that is focused on everything from business acumen to how to build and work in a performance based culture,” says Rich Thompson, Chief Human Resources Officer at Adecco Group North America. “That’s what people are looking for now, given the skills gap is huge.”