In the Nation's Interest

It’s Not Where You Go, It’s What You Know: How Business Can Help Bridge the Skills Gap

By Steve Odland

A meeting was held in Washington, D.C. today regarding Redesigning Higher Education, convened by Gallup and The Lumina Foundation. Their recent poll of business leaders found that overwhelmingly, when hiring candidates for job openings, employers look to skills and knowledge over college majors and pedigrees. As Brandon Busteed, Executive Director of Gallup Education said, “It’s not where you go, but what you know.”

That mindset is a great foundation for what hopefully is the future of the higher education system. With the majority of young people not enrolled in Ivy League institutions, greater attention must be paid to enhancing all types of learning—at technical and vocational schools; and community, public and private colleges and universities.

CED’s 2012 report, Boosting Postsecondary Education Performance, reinforces this notion and recommends ways business leaders can support these broad-access institutions that will bear much of the burden when it comes to providing postsecondary education to most Americans.

Yet, the majority of our graduates are entering the workforce without the skills necessary for the job. According to the survey, “Fewer than half (43%) of Americans agree that college graduates in this country are well-prepared for success in the workplace, and just 14% strongly agree with this statement.”

Luckily, this is a problem with a solution.

A key takeaway this morning was the opportunity for business and higher-ed institutions to collaborate and create hands-on learning experiences for students that help bridge the skills gap. The good news is that 88% of the business leaders surveyed “favor an increased level of collaboration with higher education institutions.”

CED’s 2012 report highlights steps business leaders can take immediately, including:
1) Directing their own corporate tuition assistance programs to productive and effective colleges and universities (including local and online offerings);
2) Supporting employees enrolled in higher education courses with scheduling flexibility and other resources;
3) Encouraging mentorship inside their organizations; and
4) Implementing policies which assist employees in completing postsecondary degrees and certificates.

And as we redesign the future of education, we should be careful not to stifle the qualities that make America the envy of the world—the championing of all different learning senses: creativity, and critical thinking; business best practices, and entrepreneurial spirit.

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