Start Using Assessment to Close the Skills Gap

November 19, 2014 Kristen Hicks

You’ve probably heard about the Gallup poll earlier this year that revealed the “skills gap” many have been discussing ever since. Only 11% of the business leaders polled believe that college graduates have the skills needed to be good hires. Conversely, 96% of the higher education representatives polled believe their graduates are well prepared for the workforce.

Clearly this is a problem. The poll looked generally at higher education, but the problem it exposed isn’t one limited to students who come out of an undergraduate program with debt and high hopes. The skills gap concern is even more important for graduate programs that aim to prepare students for specific professions.

Law schools, medical schools, and nursing programs have all faced criticism about how ready graduates are to start working in their chosen professions after earning a degree and passing licensing exams. Businesses don’t want to spend resources on on-the-job training, and patients and clients feel they should be able to trust the doctors, nurses, and lawyers they depend on. Again, this is clearly a problem.

There’s been some talk of how the government can work to help institutions of higher education and businesses work together to bridge the skills gap, but you don’t want to wait around for legislation to drive changes. You can start working to solve the problem now.

Step 1: Identify the Needs

Don’t assume you know what needs to change to help your students graduate better prepared. As the aforementioned poll shows, the assumptions of educators are part of the problem. You need to reach out to the people that do know what needs to change: the businesses that will be hiring your students and the former students themselves.

Send out surveys and set up interviews—do whatever you can to collect information on what students say they wish they’d graduated knowing and what the businesses hiring them say they still needed to be trained in. Use what you learn to compile a list of the main skills, competency areas, and knowledge gaps you need to work on.

Step 2: Analyze and Change Your Curriculum

Take a long, hard look at what you’re doing now. Are the items on your list being covered anywhere in your curriculum? If so, how can you expand that coverage or address them better? If not, what courses need to be added or changed to make sure your students get the opportunity to learn them?

You might need to hire new people, implement new programs, or bring new initiatives into play. If you want to graduate career-ready students, you’ll have to put in the time and commit the resources necessary to make the required changes.

Step 3: Collect Data

Avoiding assumptions is also important after you make changes that are designed to fix the skills gap. You don’t want to just assume they will work and hope for the best once you send your current students off to their new jobs. So implement assessment. Track what they’re learning as they go. If your faculty members tag all the exam questions and assignments students get throughout their time in your program, you’ll get regular updates on how well they’re learning certain things and which areas they’re struggling in. As a result, you’ll get early warning signs if your students are missing out on some of the skills or knowledge areas identified in your original list, and you’ll have the chance to amend the curriculum accordingly.

Your students deserve to know what they’re getting into. You don’t want them feeling stranded and behind on day one in a new job. You have the tools available to help them come out of your program better prepared; you just need to commit to using them.


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