Matching Higher Education to Job Needs – Part One

matching higher education part 1

Higher education is facing a crisis—it’s failing to create suitable candidates for high skilled jobs. But before getting to all that, let’s start with the recession.

The creation of new jobs often trails behind a recession. Watching the economy, businesses are presumed to be afraid of investing capital in a risky situation. Students moving home after college, a constant high unemployment rate, the protesting against firms sitting on government funds—these are all indicators that business is moving too slowly for people’s wants. Popular sentiment is that businesses have to hire more and conserve less in order for the economy to pick up.

However, businesses today do seek qualified new employees. Jobs go unfilled each day.

In fact, according to a recent publication by the McKinsey Institute, 3.5 billion advanced skill jobs will be available worldwide by 2030. To quote the study: “[If] trends persist—and absent a massive global effort to improve worker skills, they are likely to do so—there will be far too few workers with the advanced skills needed to drive a high-productivity economy and far too few job opportunities for low skill workers.”

Now back to higher education.

The lack of teaching advanced skills presents a crisis in higher education, but it’s not that students are promised jobs that are not really available. The crisis is much simpler.

Society is primarily a function of two big sectors: government and business. While there will always be a handful of available jobs in the arts, they are dwarfed by the requirements of those big two sectors. And in order to remain competitive—competition being at the core of government and business—these two big sectors require skilled workers. In an advanced economy like the United States, those worker skills are, simply, advanced.

While that all might seem a bit theoretical, look at a company like New Balance, an athletic shoemaker. One of the few athletic shoe companies to manufacture domestically, the amount actually produced in the United States is around 25%. Why? While “Made in the USA” is always nice to see on a shoe, the company reaps additional benefits by having domestic plants: the weeks it might take a competitor to construct and start shipping product is accomplished in hours by New Balance. The shoe producer will keep specially trained employees in its plants as long as there is a competitive benefit in doing so.

Not everyone can design and produce shoes. Instead, the skills needed by the big two are science, technology, engineering, and math (called STEM skills). Finance and business services are growing as well. When we take notice of these needs, the only crisis faced by higher education is not being able to create suitable candidates fast enough.

In Part Two, we’ll take up the real crisis in education—creating a suitable job applicant.

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