How to Align Learning Programs with In-Demand Employer Competencies

The growth of the digital economy has made it worth almost $3 trillion, 6 times the annual trade deficit in the US or more than the GDP of the UK. This enormous growth has had a huge impact on business and changed the talent needs across industries.

Higher education has a crucial role in supplying skilled candidates that are needed in the workforce. However, in recent years the transition for many between higher education and employment is experiencing challenges as employers look for employees with the right skills and aptitudes rather than basing a hire purely on 'traditional' qualification.

So, what's the solution? Align the skills that graduates have with market demands to ensure you are creating future employees that are industry ready, knowledgeable and adaptable. This article explores 4 ways to do just that. 

1) Think competency

With employers and policymakers questioning the value of the degree, educators need to reassess their offerings so their program reflect the needs of the marketplace.

Competency-based hiring by corporates has come into its own in recent years and some education providers are taking a similar approach. Competency-based education is gaining popularity amongst policymakers and colleges as it has a potential to lower costs and serve individuals that require flexible learning options.

According to NACE’s recent Job Outlook survey, attributes such as leadership, teamwork, communication, and problem-solving skills are key for prospective employees. This appetite for talents that can be used on the job is making practical skills more desirable and forcing educators to go beyond just offering theoretical qualifications.

Take digital as an example. In the past 5 years, the demand for people with digital skills has skyrocketed as companies across industries are having to adapt to the new online world. As a result, they are looking to hire staff with digital expertise to help them navigate their way towards digital maturity while ensuring they remain relevant in the face of disruptors.

As such, digital knowledge has become more important with 9 out of 10 organizations investing in digital skills. This means that graduates and working professionals with digital expertise are in huge demand and have an advantage over their peers

2) Do your research

Do your research

In order to trace a plan or course of action, it is crucial to collect and analyze information on the skills that are in-demand, and those coming down the line in the future.

With nearly 70% of the job openings being posted online, there’s a valuable bank of information to hand that helps educators tap into the labor market and see what skills employers are looking for.

Job ads on websites such as Upwork, Burning Glass, Monster and LinkedIn can provide enormous amounts of information at low cost and ever-increasing and a wide range of detailed and timely data, outlining the specific skills and certifications organizations want employees to possess.

In addition, labor market forecasts help build a picture of the world in which current and future graduates are being prepared. Countries like Belgium, Finland and Estonia are pioneers regarding labor market projections and adapt their education programs accordingly.

3) Offer apprenticeships

Programs which combine classroom-based theoretical knowledge with advanced practical apprenticeships have proven successful in terms of hiring rates. In addition, the prestige that comes from these qualifications drives a stronger demand for the courses by the labor market.

The German model is worth mentioning in its use of ‘dual training’ that combines classroom instruction and hands-on experience at a company. It has proven effective in combating youth unemployment and skills shortages to the extent that other countries have followed their model. 

Countries like Argentina, Brazil and the US have adopted similar programs which consist of classroom training and practical internships. On-the-job training involves students in the rotation through several job positions. In the US, the programs include academic education and vocational training aimed at attaining an upper secondary qualification, recognized as a pre-apprenticeship program which in turn allows entry to apprenticeship. 

4) Place students at the core

 Place students at the core

The goal of a higher education should be to help students acquire more transversal skills throughout their studies. Transversal skills will be useful in the majority of occupations, such as ICT (Information and Communication Technologies) skills, problem-solving, team working, literacy, numeracy, etc. In essence, skills which are prone to be applied in most occupations and also required for learning new skills.

To achieve this, educators need to move away from the traditional teacher-centered classroom practices toward a more student-centered model of learning. This can be done by adapting courses to be professionally oriented to promote greater self-study and teamwork by using on-campus as well as off-campus blended learning.

It’s also important to embed workplace learning from the beginning, in contrast to the traditional placements late in the programs. The main focus of changing these programs should be to ensure that all components focus on developing a wide range of skills and competencies for the students.

Several cases studies has shown that the implementation and teaching of transversal skills has improved the ease of transition between medium level and higher education, as well as enhanced the ability for individuals to go on and create their own businesses.

In conclusion, perhaps the most important fact to bear in mind is that there is not one simple solution. Every country, region, state, has its very own differences, its demands, and requirements of the professional workforce and education. Therefore it’s essential to conduct appropriate research to determine these needs in order to be able to provide a suitable plan for educational institutes of any level.

As markets constantly change, so do the skillsets required. Adaptation is paramount along with keeping an eye on the fluctuations and variations across industries (global and regional) while remaining open and flexible to changes and adjustments will be the key to success.

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