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How Do We Design an Education to Employment System That Works?

Spend some time talking to employers and eventually you'll hear the same story: they can't find qualified workers.

Spend some time talking to employers and eventually you'll hear the same story: they can't find qualified workers. According to a recent report from the McKinsey Center for Global Governance, 43 percent of employers say there simply aren't enough applicants with the knowledge and skills they need. At the same time, 75 million young people—a full 12.6 percent of youth around the globe—are unemployed. So, how do we solve this mismatch between workers' knowledge and skills, and employers' needs?

To find the answer, the report's authors analyzed over 100 innovative education-to-employment projects around the world and surveyed a diverse group of employers, education institutions, and young people in nine countries: Brazil, Germany, India, Mexico, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States. They focused on three key areas related to this skills gap: enrolling in postsecondary education, building skills, and finding a job.

One of the problems the report identifies is a lack of communication and clear expectations between employers, educators, and young people. For example, of the education institutions surveyed, 72 percent believe new graduates are ready for work, but only 45 percent of youth, and 42 percent of employers agree. A third of employers also say they never communicate with education providers, and of those that do, less than half found it to be effective. Meanwhile, over a third of education providers "report that they are unable to estimate the job-placement rates of their graduates."

As for young people, they're decidedly uniformed about what kinds of job prospects await them after they spend years plunking down the cash for a certificate or degree. Fewer than half "say that when they chose what to study they had a good understanding of which disciplines lead to professions with job openings and good wage levels." As a result, only half of youth agree that their post-secondary education helped them get a better job and 25 percent end up taking some sort of interim employment that's not related to what they studied.

The obvious solution is greater collaboration between employers and education institutions—employers talking to education providers about the kinds of skills they need and education providers ensuring students gain those skills. Indeed, out of the successful education-to-employment programs McKinsey reviewed, what works is when "education providers and employers actively step into one another's worlds."

What does that look like? "Employers might help to design curricula and offer their employees as faculty," the report's authors write, "while education providers may have students spend half their time on a job site and secure them hiring guarantees." The other pattern they saw in programs that work is that "employers and education providers work with their students early and intensely." Instead of a siloed approach where "enrollment leads to skills, which lead to a job," what's preferable is if "the education-to-employment journey is treated as a continuum in which employers commit to hire youth before they are enrolled in a program to build their skills."

They also recommend giving parents and students more "data about career options and training pathways." If education institutions were required to "systematically gather and disseminate data regarding students after they graduated—job-placement rates and career trajectory five years out—as they are regarding students' records before admissions," the report states, "young people would have a clear sense of what they could plausibly expect upon leaving a school or taking up a course of study, while education institutions would think more carefully about what they teach and how they connect their students to the job market."

Of course, not everyone believes there is a skills gap, and there are dangers to making postsecondary education too much about what individual employers want. After all, what happens when a specific employer closes down but people are trained solely to work at that business? And, given that most of the jobs of the future haven't been invented yet—seriously, ask someone who graduated from college in 1999 if they could imagine a job opening for a "social media manager"—we need education to be about "fostering creativity and conceptual thinking abilities" as well as what can get you hired tomorrow.

As for that, there's a caveat there, too: Back in 2011, Casey Wiley, an English lecturer at Penn State, was asked by a student, "Can I get a job with an English degree?" That's a tough question for any professor to answer given that an English major could end up working as a lawyer, a teacher, a doctor—or in any number of careers. Given that the only person who can decide what you want to do with your life is you, one of the findings in the McKinsey report rings particularly true: The most successful young people will always be those who take control and actively manage the decisions they make about both their career and education.

How does the job market intersect with your level of education and skills? McKinsey's looking for more first-person experiences regarding current job market conditions around the globe. Have some insight to share? Tell them your story.

Click here to add sharing your education-to-employment experiences to your GOOD "to-do" list.

Group of students takes test in class image via Shutterstock

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