Got competencies? Better than getting good grades?

My collection of articles, reports and surveys about the alignment of the global higher education system and the workplace never remains static. The attention on figuring out how to reduce youth un and under-employment remains a constant source of analysis and a sustaining topic at conferences on all continents. And why not?  This lengthy report in the World Financial Review is a comprehensive compendium of the data and bleak situation facing youth (focused on Europe):

“In 2013, eight million young Europeans – the so-called ‘NEETS’- are not employed, pursuing an educaeir tion or involved in training. This translates into one young person out of seven.”  Globally, the International Labor Organization has estimated that 75 million youths are unemployed.

We’ve seen a rejuvenated movement toward innovative attempts to close the gap between what students study in college or university and the demands of the workplace.  A renewed interest in revitalizing vocational education, more money in the U.S. to support training & industry partnerships at our community colleges [which, by the way, have always been at the forefront of developing skills and competencies to match jobs and growing occupational titles in their states and local communities], new MOOCs, and one-off partnerships with industry-leaders willing to fund specific curricular programs and internships tied to specific openings in their business. All good.  But quite insufficient to meet the huge number of unemployed in both developed and developing nations.

Where to focus the attention of educators and government policy-makers?  On the supply-side or on the demand-side? Is the entire Western model of a residential university in need of an overhaul?  Is there a need to become more engaged in the training of K-12 teachers to better educate children BEFORE they enter the university system?  Should all students blend both classroom time with off-campus practicum training (remember that Northeastern has been successfully doing this in their domestic and international co-op curriculum for a long time)?  The SIT Graduate Institute has -for 50 years- successfully integrated practical internships with classroom work and the result is a highly employable group of students in the field of international development.

The focus on this so-called “skills agenda” has been analyzed in reports like UNESCO’s “Education for All Monitoring Report;” the Asian Development Bank’s report, “Improving Transitions from School to University to Workplace;” and the Mckinsey & Company’s report, “Education to Employment: Designing a System That Works.

Which way forward? I think it is clear that changes in the global economic system have forced the education industry to radically re-think its mission, purpose and overall structure. As Andreas Schleicher -advisor on education to the OECD Secretary General –  is quoted as saying: “…without the right skills, people languish on the margins of society, technological progress doesn’t translate into economic growth, and countries can’t compete in today’s economies.”

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