Education and the Skill Gap

The United States still ranks in the top 10 for educational systems throughout the world. Yet, its overall ranking has been falling for more than 3 decades.  Other countries score much higher in subjects like math and science, and they continue to invest more money into education, while the United States has decreased its educational budget by 3%.

So it’s no wonder that many top companies in the United States have been complaining about the growing skills gap and struggling to fill their open positions with qualified candidates.

This skills gap stems from high school and college graduates entering the job market without the hard and soft skills employers are looking for.  Public schools, colleges, and universities are bearing the brunt of the blame.

So what skills are employers currently looking for?

According to the LinkedIn 2021 Workplace Learning Report, employers are looking for the following 10 skills:

  1. Resilience and adaptability
  2. Technology skills/digital fluency
  3. Communications across remote or distributed teams
  4. Emotional intelligence
  5. Cross-functional collaboration
  6. Leading through change
  7. Change management
  8. Dealing with stress/being more mindful
  9. Time management
  10. Creativity

What’s so surprising about this list is that many of the items included on it are soft skills. Soft skills are basically thinking skills or non-technical, interpersonal skills such as communication, teamwork, problem solving, critical thinking, and dependability. Hard skills are often the focus of school curriculum and include things like science, writing, math, and reading.

What this tells us is that while school districts attempt to educate on as many of the hard skills based on their set curriculum, what employers need from employees are the soft skills that make them more adaptable, better communicators, more creative thinkers, and better problem solvers. 

These results basically mean that while teaching subjects such as math and science, instructors are doing more lecture-based than hands on problem solving.  Activity-based, project-based and problem-solving education programs force these “soft” learning skills to be incorporated in class.

This is where virtual education excels.  Being able to put students in small group rooms to work on different projects is easy and the results can quickly be viewed by the instructor, or the instructor can easily join the small group to coach them.  Activity-based learning promotes the soft skills that are severely lacking in the workforce which is a major contributor to the skills gap. 

In 2021, the news brought to light just how much time is being spent in classrooms nationwide on social justice issues with protests ensuing. While these are important lessons that should be discussed, many feel that these types of controversial issues should be left to the parents’ discretion and taught at home.

These controversial theories are taking more time away from teaching subjects that matter and match the knowledge and skill expectations of future employers.

What can school districts do to correct this skills gap and properly prepare children for future employment?  The most obvious answer is that legislators should give local control back to the states where these children are being served, and school districts should collaborate with top companies to ensure that all students are receiving a well-rounded education.

This education should then continue to focus on foundational hard skills while incorporating time and practice with activities and projects that teach soft skills that are critical to employers.

Because when students learn how to communicate effectively, manage their time wisely, think through problems, find creative solutions, and adapt to changing environments and expectations, they will be far better prepared to fill the various roles open to them.