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The Idea that Launched a Thousand Strategic Plans
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 The following digest reviews the article “The Idea that Launched a Thousand Strategic Plans” by Dan Berrett, published in the Chronicle of Higher Education on January 22, 2017. The article summary below provides a brief overview of Berrett’s examination of the “skills gap” that has been identified by employers as a growing issue to be addressed regarding the 21st century workforce. The full article can be viewed at the following web address:



Summary: Zoe Sullivan

Article Summary

The “skills gap” is the idea that industries have jobs to fill but can't find workers with the skills needed to fill them. Although it is implied that the skills gap is a result of colleges’ lack of training of students in terms of “job skills”, it is not always clear exactly which skills are lacking. In career development literature and amongst college-level employers, both hard skills and soft skills have been identified as categories that make up the “skills gap”. Although career centers attempt to address potential remedies to the “skills gap” through their strategic plans, the vagueness of the issue still persists, making it difficult to truly define what the “skills gap” is, who should be responsible for addressing it, and how it should be addressed.


The most-common interpretation of the skills gap is that institutions of higher education -- often, community colleges -- must attend to the needs of local businesses. This idea came about in the years following the Great Recession, as the job market was slowly mending and the public looked at institutions of higher education to train and prepare the next generation of workers to fit with the needs of current job openings. Employers’ expectations can complicate the picture, as many employers are boosting the level of education required for jobs. Some of this can be due to the increasing complexity of these jobs, but not always. The job-market-analytics company, Burning Glass, found that employers were requiring bachelor's degrees for jobs that don't need them: About two-thirds of the postings for executive secretaries and executive assistants called for a bachelor's degree. Just 19 percent of those who already held those jobs had that level of education.


Whether this job training is needed or is a perceived need by employers, the pressure is on for colleges to work together with businesses in order to create job training opportunities for students, for both increasingly complex work tasks and blue-collar jobs. There are several examples of employers partnering with colleges in order to develop curriculum and create training opportunities to address the “skills gap”, though not all are successful. This is in part because labor dynamics can be fluid and unpredictable, and students make their own choices about what they want to study. A potential solution to this is allowing students to be at the forefront of which skills they demonstrate to employers. For example, industry-sponsored innovation challenges allow companies to see candidates' soft skills in action. Such arrangements can benefit all parties, allowing employers to connect and recruit students, and allowing students to demonstrate real-life work skills to employers.


The core concerns about the skills gap are really about how the many players in a region can spark broadly shared and sustainable economic growth. It is suggested that the “skills gap” discussions be broadened to include how higher education institutions, employers, families, and communities can come together to address it. The regions that have demonstrated sustainable economic growth tend to have something in common – they are connected to prosperous, advanced industries such as high-tech innovators in fields like aerospace, automobiles, medical devices, and pharmaceuticals, as well as energy, telecommunications, and information technology. These types of industries conduct research and development and offer diverse and high-paying jobs for people with varying levels of education. Although it is certainly beneficial to partner with local employers to create opportunities for students, universities should also take caution in linking too closely to a region's employers. Pittsburgh, for example, has been able to reinvent itself from a steel town partly because its universities weren't simply trying to feed workers and managers to the local plants to meet their immediate needs. It is important to take note of the role universities have in repositioning their local economies in order to make informed decisions about how and when universities should partner with employers to prepare students for the workforce.


Implications for Recruiting Professionals and Employers

If employers are looking to partner with colleges in order to influence curriculum and create pipelines for hiring graduates through skill-specific training programs or other collaborative opportunities, it might be best for the employer to have a clear picture of what their perception of the “skills gap” is in terms of their open positions, and to propose programming ideas that allow students to be at the forefront of how that skill is honed and displayed to employers. On a more macro note, it would also be beneficial for industries to have increased focus on research and development in order to stay abreast of the ever-changing nature of work in the 21st century. Also, employers should take a look at how human talent adds value to their industry and to consider how it could evolve in the future.


Implications for Career Services Professionals

Universities do have a role in preparing students for the workforce, but they shouldn’t consider the burden to be fully on their efforts. Employer feedback and job data is essential in identifying any potential “skills gaps”. Universities can partner with employers and other community members in order to integrate job training into curriculum and other modes of programming, but such programs would be best if they considered multiple employer points-of-view in order to get a more well-rounded structure of learning outcomes. If there are certain local industries that are robust and have a focus on research and development, companies within those industries could be optimal partners for universities in developing skills training programs.  

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