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Shifting How We Look at Higher Education

In order to meet the labour demands of the current and future workforce markets, how we view university education needs to change on all fronts - in the classrooms, in the boardrooms, and at the dinner table.

It’s common these days to find graduates and young professionals who are employed in fields that have nothing to do with their university degree. Some professionals have even received multiple advanced degrees, investing time and money into specialized knowledge, only to make a drastic career change.

Other graduates are unable to find work in their degree field upon graduation. A 2017 global report found that nearly 75 million youth were unemployed. When a young person is unemployed, the next logical step for them is underemployment. Graduates accept jobs that don’t require an advanced degree. Had they simply begun working right out of high school, they may actually have been further ahead in their professional journeys.

In both cases, the university degree has seemingly gone to waste. Does this mean that the investment in higher education is no longer worthwhile?

Is Higher Education Obsolete?

In short, no, higher education is not obsolete. However, there are two paradigms that need to shift when it comes to our understanding of higher education.

1. Higher Education Is About Learning to Learn

In a globalized economy that is rapidly changing, it is important for the workforce to do the same. University graduates need to be prepared to up-level skills when required. The content of university courses is important, but more than that, it is imperative that students learn to be adaptable, and gain transferable skills.

One of higher education’s benefits is fostering a love of learning and forcing students into varied and difficult situations that require creative problem solving. The problems often require resource management, ingenuity, and systems-level critical thinking. All such skills are invaluable for the changing and digitizing of workforce labour markets.

Beyond the often-discussed need for more STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) skills among the employed, the most in-demand skills for the future workforce include communication, teamwork and punctuality, as well as social perceptiveness, critical thinking and complex problem solving.

2. Higher Education Is Not Exclusive to Universities

Even the term “higher education” indicates that universities’ ivy-covered towers and beautiful century-old campuses are the optimal place to learn. The reality, though, is that these campuses are not for everyone, and there are unmet labour demands that require alternative education.

Students, educators, parents and employers can all redefine higher education. The term applies to college, on-the-job specialized training, experience in the workforce, and university. In today’s workforce, it’s soft skills and creative abilities that are increasingly in demand. So before we continue to push all students into the traditional Bachelor’s degree funnel, we can all champion the idea that required education can come from many sources.

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Employment as an Alternative to Higher Education

Workforce development networks are a key player in making sure that this change in narrative occurs. It’s better for the economy, the higher education institutions, and employees, if students feel less resistance to entering an alternative to higher education after high school.

Workforce development strategies can incorporate working with local high schools to funnel students right into positions after graduation. There are many labour markets with a demand for skilled workers, and by educating students and teachers on the exciting careers that await and do not require a four-year degree, more students will become gainfully employed, avoid student loan debt, and employers will benefit.

Making Use of Graduates’ Full Skill Set

37% of graduates reported that they are not using near their full skill set from university in the job they currently hold. Industries are in desperate need of highly qualified individuals and are finding it difficult to fill positions with the right people.

This is where a workforce development officer can craft partnerships, plans and educational programs to facilitate these employers finding the workers that are searching for a more fulfilling career. Using a specific tool like Vicinity Jobs’ Labour Demand and Supply Reports™ can help you to better understand the labour market in your local community. The process becomes easy with automated reports and statistics based around specific job markets, skills, and locations.

Higher Education Doesn’t Always Mean Better Employment

Gone are the days of the blueprint to success- graduate from high school, get the four-year degree at a reputable university and then work in a chosen career for 50 years until retirement. Today’s economy demands adaptability, and already sees people changing careers multiple times.

By 35, a quarter of the workforce will have already worked five jobs.

Spread the word that higher education comes in multiple forms, including college degrees, apprenticeships, and on-the-job training. Having the labour market data to back up this message will make it easy to build an effective workforce development plan, ensuring graduates are employed in industries that match their diverse skill sets.

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References:

https://www.mckinsey.com/featured-insights/employment-and-growth/technology-jobs-and-the-future-of-work

https://www.rbc.com/dms/enterprise/futurelaunch/_assets-custom/pdf/RBC-Future-Skills-Report-FINAL-Singles.pdf

https://www.forbes.com/sites/sarahlandrum/2017/11/10/millennials-arent-afraid-to-change-jobs-and-heres-why/#3f66497019a5

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