Bridging the Skills Gap

School is not all about the academics—at least it shouldn’t be. Look around you. The skills necessary for success in the world include far more than strong academic achievement. Businesses now expect effective personal and interpersonal skills, along with technical skills and overall competence. We suffer from a “workforce skills gap” in this country that threatens to become a national crisis.

Consider the following:
  •         53 percent of respondents listed “finding and retaining qualified employees” as a top business challenge, according to a 2016 HireRight Employment Screening Benchmarking Report.
  •         The Manpower Group found that 52 percent of employers say they have a hard time finding qualified employees to fill jobs. Yet we all know recent college graduates who cannot find jobs. Why, given that employers cannot fill positions?
  •         Today’s labor force is older, and more racially, ethnically and gender diverse than ever. These trends will continue to shape the workforce for at least until 2020, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Students Need These Skills
The skills gap is not simply the lack of academic skills or specific occupational skills. It is personal skills as well. I believe schools have an obligation to emphasize these personal skills along with academic skills. From my perspective, this is a call to action that no school can afford to ignore.

What skills are we talking about? Communication; problem-solving; taking initiative; self-direction; the ability to work with others. You get the idea.

Today’s companies look for high school and college graduates with demonstrated abilities in these skills. They expect schools to balance academics with workplace and personal skills. That’s not happening consistently.

The Hudson Institute’s Workforce 2020 report says the average manufacturer finds that five out of six job applicants lack basic writing or verbal skills. Many of these applicants are high school, or even college, graduates but their writing and speaking skills are limited to academic applications; schools neglected real-world writing and speaking applications.

In addition, employers report that a greater gap exists in personal skills than in academic skills. Only 50 percent of high school students are prepared for entry-level positions. Most lack these personal skills, according to the report, Meeting the Demand: Teaching Soft Skills.

Today’s workplace is a high-tech, high-performance environment. Companies expect employees to be independent thinkers and problem solvers. If we as educators truly want to prepare students for this 21st century world of work, secondary schools must integrate personal skill development into existing curriculums.

How You Do It
It starts with creating what I call a “culture of success”—for every student, not only in school but also outside the classroom.

Good teachers create this culture by continually adjusting their instructional approaches to meet students’ needs. Educators should focus on the whole student, and look for ways for them to interact with others.
Does your school have a requirement for volunteering? Do you allow students to hold leadership positions in clubs or sports? To you have a way to assess a student’s personal skills: time management, ability to plan and organize work? Do your students respect diversity? Can they work as a member of a team? Schools must focus on these skills – not just the skills and knowledge needed for the next standardized test.

If our mission is to prepare students for success in the world beyond school, then we must develop the whole student. The schools presenting at this year’s Model Schools Conference on June 25-28 in Nashville, have just that. More information on the conference and these schools is available by clicking on the following link:  2017 Model Schools Conference.


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