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Recent college admissions scandals bring skills gap into focus

Recent headlines about parents who allegedly bought their kids’ way into college has been the topic of many conversations. It is unsettling to think that anyone – especially a parent – would think that a piece of paper from a prestigious university would have greater value than a true education. Not to mention their child’s feelings of self-worth and accomplishment. We probably would have heard very little of these college admissions scandals had they not involved celebrities, but in any case, they bring another concerning issue to light: the skills gap.

Studying in LibraryDespite college attendance, the skills gap is growing

Over the years, our society seems to have placed greater emphasis on grades and degrees rather than students truly mastering a valuable skill. I remember sitting in class listening to an attorney give a presentation. During the Q and A afterwards, another student with an opposing view to the attorney who had given the lecture asked a question. This question, though, was more of a commentary designed to “show off” his knowledge than a real question. The lecturer started his response by saying “that’s proof that college don’t make you smart!” with the rest of his reply serving to back it up. But his initial response is what I recall most vividly.

While college applications and acceptance rates are increasing, the skills gap continues to grow. That is to say: there are jobs that are not being filled because there are too few individuals available who possess the required skills.

College Letter of AcceptanceLearning initiatives put a focus on skills vs. “just a diploma”

The good news is there is a renaissance of sorts rising – at least the beginnings of one. It’s bringing a new focus to education, with a target of truly learning rather than just receiving a diploma. Even with an ample supply of college graduates, many of those leaving school have not been taught the skills they need to fill high paying positions. The sectors of industries affected the most are pushing new learning initiatives as a result. This includes health care, technology, and the trades.

IBM is a trailblazer in creating learning opportunities

One such program is the NEW COLLAR INITIATIVE, a learning program from IBM. It provides opportunities by offering apprenticeships and partnering with community colleges. According to IBM’s website, “apprenticeships at IBM are all about picking up new skills-and lots of them. When you join IBM as an apprentice it is not just about training and qualifications. We have your long-term professional career in mind.” IBM’s Community College Skills Accelerator program provides faculty and staff access to IBM technical offerings and education.

Ginni Rometty, Chairman, President and CEO of IBM says: “Even as many seek to revitalize traditional industries, lasting job creation will require an understanding of important new dynamics in the global labor market. This is not about white collar vs. blue collar jobs, but about the ‘new collar’ jobs that employers in many industries demand, but which remain largely unfilled.” The NEW COLLAR program recognizes skills over degrees to address the skills gap. Not everyone will pursue a traditional four-year degree. In the area of cybersecurity, for example, IBM seeks people who are problem solvers and who are analytical, methodical and detail oriented.

Graduation CeremonyTrade schools are gaining in popularity, too

Trade schools are gaining greater popularity and acceptance as well! A student can be job ready for a career in this sector with significantly less time and financial commitment than many traditional degrees. Many of these trade schools have job placement rates nearing 100%. Plus, many of these jobs offer salaries that exceed those achieved by the average four-year graduate. The ability to start a career sooner – without college debt – is a big advantage. Those that find employment with companies that offer education incentives have the added benefit of being able to later advance their career.

A bit closer to our Florida community, the “I-4 Corridor New Super Region” has spawned tremendous job opportunities. Along with this growth in our beautiful state, the area now has access to new job training initiatives even at the high school level.

College has been – and will continue to be – a powerful and necessary educational path for many. But for others, there’s no better time to explore other options for building job skills and finding a career.

 

June 2019

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