Can Educators Close the Skills Gap?
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Perhaps the most disturbing finding from the 2012 IBM Tech Trends Report is that a wide skills gap – 1 in 10 organizations feels it has all the skills it needs to apply advanced technology for business advantage – is not being closed by our universities. With 73% of students and educators indicating a moderate to major gap in their institution’s ability to meet these skill needs in the market, there appears to be little hope of this gap being filled anytime soon. To get at the root causes and find solutions, we dug deeper into the Tech Trends data, reviewed complementary studies, and looked to universities finding success with new approaches.
A report released in December by the McKinsey Center for Government presents an unflattering view of educators’ recognition of the problem. The report found a significant disconnect between employers and youth on the one hand, and educators on the other, over the question of whether graduates are adequately prepared to enter the workforce upon graduation. Only 42% of employers and 45% of youth believe they are prepared. Educators? A whopping 72% believe they are graduating students prepared to enter the workforce of the 21st century. This prompted us to ask whether educators, by failing to see a problem clearly defined by students and employers, are failing to address it.
Bluntly put, are educators’ heads in the sand?
Based on educators’ answers to targeted questions in the Tech Trends survey, the answer is an emphatic no. When we asked pointed questions around advanced technology areas where market skill gaps are extreme, educators very clearly recognize a problem. Over 80% see a moderate to major gap in their institution’s ability to meet skill needs in mobile computing, business analytics, cloud computing, and social business. In each skill category, more educators than students recognize the gap.
While these numbers present a harsh picture of today’s reality, the alignment among educator, student, and employer perception means corrective action on a large scale is possible. We are seeing forward-thinking institutions making strides already. For instance, at the University of Southern California, students are developing ideas for how best to put IBM Watson technology to work. Across Europe, leading schools are hosting a series of ecosystem events with IBM to raise awareness of skill needs and start the learning process. And in Kenya, universities are playing a leading role spurring economic development by partnering with IBM to build the skills needed to grow and sustain markets.
In all cases, the right partnership among universities, industry, and local government with extensive student involvement is proving to be the model that works. And the educators who recognize the acute skill needs in their region are best positioned to take action.
Dan Hauenstein leads global skills programs at IBM, including the IBM Academic Initiative, through which IBM partners with institutes of higher learning worldwide to help students build skills that lead to great careers. Follow Dan on Twitter @danhauenstein.