Is higher education preparing individuals for the workplace?
We often hear employers complain about the gap between what students learn at MCAST or University and what they are expected to know in preparation for the job market. This is even more alarming in light of the growing number of graduates from vocational and tertiary educational institutions.
If one had to choose between a candidate with a university degree and a candidate with a high level of intelligence, one would expect that the latter would perform better in a number of jobs, particularly those jobs that require thinking and ongoing learning. Academic achievements are an indication of how much a candidate has studied but their performance during an intelligence test reflects their ability to learn, reason and think logically.
Universities could substantially increase the value of a university degree by allocating more time to teaching students skills that are critical in today’s world. Recruiters and employers are unlikely to be impressed by candidates that are looking for work if they do not exhibit certain people skills. This may be one of the big differences between what a university looks for and what an employer looks for in an applicant.
While employers look for people who are integrated and show empathy, these qualities are rarely or never looked for by MCAST or University when they accept applications from people wishing to continue their studies within their institutions. As the impact of artificial intelligence increases, prospective work candidates who can carry out tasks that cannot be done by machines will become ever more sought after. This leads us to the importance that is now being given to the soft skills that are difficult for machines to master. In a study carried out among 200 employers, more than 50 per cent listed problem solving, collaboration, good service to clients and communication as the most valued skills.
Universities and vocational institutions are still in time to increase their relevance by addressing the knowledge gap that becomes evident when managers are promoted to leaders. Some people are being promoted to leadership positions quickly without any formal training in leadership. But if more institutions invest in teaching team leadership skills, workplaces will have a wider pool of candidates with leadership potential.
In conclusion, I think that the job market needs to diversify. More students are going to university or MCAST with one practical aim in mind: to increase their employability and become useful contributors to the economy. Even if the value of a university degree is of benefit to those who achieve it, workplaces can help change the narrative by de-emphasising higher education as a measure of intellectual competence and work potential and, instead, employing people with a more open mind.