Rethinking Education and Employment in Post-Pandemic US: What Employers Need from StudentsBy Joy Liwanag
The aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic has left the United States grappling with a complex economic scenario.
While millions of Americans lost their jobs, the economy struggled to recover, leaving a significant gap of 4 million jobs as of April 2021. Paradoxically, the nation is facing an unprecedented labor shortage, with 8.1 million jobs vacant and unfilled. The root cause of this apparent contradiction lies in the misalignment between the skills students acquire through the traditional education system and the dynamic needs of the modern job market.
The Disconnect Between Education and Employability
The traditional education system in the U.S. is failing to equip students with the skills necessary for contemporary careers. A Cengage survey reveals that nearly one in five recent college graduates felt inadequately prepared for their first job, leading to reluctance in applying for positions within their field. The reliance on a four-year degree as the primary indicator of employability has created a chasm between education and industry requirements, resulting in nearly 15 million un- or under-employed individuals.
The Stigma Around Non-Traditional Education
The U.S. harbors a lingering stigma against vocational and non-traditional education paths. In stark contrast to European countries where vocational education is valued, two-thirds of American job openings demand a bachelor's or associate's degree, eliminating viable career paths for many individuals. The dismissal of non-traditional education paths by businesses, as indicated by 61% of business and HR leaders, perpetuates this issue, excluding qualified candidates who pursued alternative learning routes due to financial constraints.
The Cost Barrier
The exorbitant cost of a four-year degree further exacerbates the issue, rendering higher education unattainable for many families. With tuition and fees reaching staggering amounts, a skills-based vocational education is a more viable and cost-effective alternative for numerous Americans. To address this, both employers and the education system must reevaluate their approach to hiring and education.
Evolving the Employer Mindset
Forward-thinking organizations are already taking steps to bridge the gap between education and employability. IBM's Pathways in Technology Early College High School (P-TECH) and Google's certificate programs are prime examples. Companies like Cengage are rethinking hiring policies, recognizing that certain roles do not necessitate a traditional degree but rather require specific skill sets obtainable through alternative pathways.
Suggestions for Employers
1. Skill-Based Hiring
Evaluate the necessity of a traditional degree for open roles. Define the required skills and assess if they can be acquired through non-traditional educational paths.
2. Adjust Job Requirements
Modify job descriptions to accommodate various educational backgrounds. Language in job descriptions should be inclusive and not inhibit non-traditional candidates from applying.
3. Upskilling Opportunities
Provide training and certificate programs to upskill existing employees, fostering continuous learning and adaptation to evolving job requirements.
Suggestions for Higher Education Institutions:
1. Collaboration with Employers
Establish a robust dialogue between businesses and educational institutions to align academic offerings with real-world job requirements.
2. Micro-Credentials and Badges
Respond to the rising interest in micro-credentials, badges, and certificate programs among American students, offering alternative pathways to skill acquisition.
3. Focus on Job-Ready Skills
Shift the focus from traditional degrees to identifying and showcasing job-ready skills acquired during education and training.
The misalignment between education and employability is a pressing issue that demands urgent attention. To foster economic recovery and bridge the gap between job seekers and employers, both the education system and businesses must adapt to the evolving needs of the workforce. By rethinking hiring practices, breaking down stigmas around non-traditional education paths, and promoting skills-based hiring, we can build a workforce that is not only resilient but also equipped for success in the post-pandemic world. Now is the time for a collective effort to reshape the future of education and employment in the United States.
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