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New York Times: With Innovation, Colleges Fill the Skills Gap


How large is the so-called skills gap?

The Manpower Group, a human resources consulting firm, says the gap, which is often defined as the difference in job skills required and the actual skills possessed by employees, is a chasm. Of the more than 42,000 employers the firm surveyed last year, 40 percent said they were having difficulties filling roles, the highest level since 2007.

While some experts say that businesses bemoaning the quality of talent emerging from colleges is a perennial complaint, no one argues the importance of developing programs to meet the needs of employers in a fast-changing workplace.

“The economy and employers have changed,” said Louis Soares, vice president of the American Council on Education. “They want you to come in with a hot skill set, ready to go. Colleges are paying attention at different levels to what that means and trying to develop programs.”

Some are doing that better than others. “Some institutions are very good,” said Gary Burtless, an economist with the Brookings Institution. “They have their ear to the ground, they’re listening to local employers and paying attention to what they need.”

Those needs may best be met by innovative and often collaborative programs, some of which, like the following, are upending traditional approaches and views on higher education.

Case Western Reserve University

Creating 15- or 18-credit minors may be one of the more effective strategies for preparing students to enter high-demand fields. Because a minor requires fewer credits than a major and few, if any, prerequisites, these allow colleges to be more flexible and responsive to changing industries and emerging technologies.

Case Western’s minor in applied data science, for example, funnels students into this hot field from other disciplines. The students learn skills like data management, distributed computing, informatics and statistical analytics.

The Case minor has attracted students from majors like arts and sciences, engineering, business and health care. Graduates enter the market with an important and salable credential. A 2016 poll conducted by Gallup for the Business-Higher Education Forum found that 69 percent of employers expected that by 2021, candidates with data science skills would get preference for jobs in their organizations.

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