February 14, 2014

Liberal arts education feeds the Skills Gap

Robert W. Goldfarb wrote in the New York Times here:
"The general message from [business] leaders is this: More young people would be hired if they had the right qualifications, but too few have the skills and discipline needed to succeed in today’s demanding workplace. 
Over the last few years, I’ve interviewed more than 200 young people from diverse backgrounds of income, education, race and geography. About half told me that they had liberal arts degrees, and I was struck by how many of them regretted majoring in a discipline now seen as impractical. 
Many liberal-arts graduates say they are eager to find an employer willing to train them in skills that don’t require a degree in engineering or computer science. They cite six-sigma analysis, supply-chain procedures, customer service, inventory control, quality assurance and Internet marketing. They want a chance to master one of those skills.
But their pleas appear unlikely to be answered. Most corporate training today is directed at employees who arrive with technical skills already developed — if not through their college degrees, then though specialized internships. 
This puts a large swath of young people at a disadvantage. Burdened with tuition debt, many college graduates from low- and middle-income families can’t afford to serve a low-paying or unpaid internship."
Goldfarb in full here. Robert W. Goldfarb gave a pretty soft solution to the problem. The HBR lays the smack down on the Skills Gap and those that feed it here:
"Schools can’t continue to deliver an expensive credential that is not seen as delivering a viable path to a career—no matter what the long-term value. Here are four things higher education leaders and students must do differently to make liberal arts education economically sustainable—for all."
HBR gives four solutions:
  1. Stop the hand wringing about the real value of a liberal arts education.
  2. Use the entire school community to create an employable graduate.
  3. Attack the job search “skills gap” head on.
A major reason so many liberal arts students struggle after graduation is they have no clue about the real skills needed to pursue and land a job in today’s hyper-competitive job market. A lot of schools need to reinvent their traditional career services function so it provides leading edge tools and tutoring to prepare students for the “real world.”
Updated networking techniques, ready access to helpful alumni, education about technologies like applicant tracking systems, and intensive coaching for Skype and in-person interviews must become standard offerings to make liberal arts students more competitive.
And fourthly: Increase student engagement with personal and career development activities. HBR in full here. In an article in The Sunday Times, 'University and debts of £50,000? No thanks, I’ll be an apprentice - Studying needn’t mean a degree — work schemes offer a wage, a qualification and, crucially, a job,' Ben Marlow said:
"The return to growth and the fall in unemployment have a flip side and that is a skills shortage."
David Stokes, chief executive of IBM’s UK and Ireland operations, said:
"One huge disadvantage with university graduates is the lack of work experience. “Higher Apprenticeships bridge the gap between the two."
The skills minister Matthew Hancock said:
"There is a cultural change taking place. University is obviously right for some people, but not others, and the worlds of employment and education have been segregated for too long. This is the best way of bringing them together."
He had previously said:
"Concentrating only on academic training to the exclusion of technical training was a big mistake."
And as I repeatedly say:
"Attending 8 hours of lectures per week in an arts/humanities/social 'science' course is a waste of £27,000 except for the academically gifted."

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