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How Gaps in Higher Education Create Big Opportunities for Associations

Written by Taylor Clement on October 13, 2016 at 8:30 AM

Is your association missing a major opportunity to educate millennials and other new members?

"It went well. Really well." - Me

That's what I told everyone after the interview at my dream job. I was able to answer all the questions and it seemed like a perfect fit.

I couldn't stop smiling. I was so sure I'd get the position and I was ready to start my new career path. I was going to be successful, with the best career possible right out of college. About a week later my dream was crushed. I received a phone call and heard the words, "unfortunately we cannot offer you the position." Questions rushed through my head. Was I not good enough? Did I not have enough skills? Was it simply not a good fit?

As disheartening as it is, the answer to all of those questions was a resounding "yes." I wasn't good enough because I didn't have enough job skills. I had academic skills, research skills, "critical thinking" skills (or so my professors said) but I didn't have the practical, applicable job skills I needed to start a career.

How often does this happen to new graduates in your association's industry?

This is the reality of trying to find your ideal career right after graduating college. There is a skills gap between younger workers and employers that colleges are not fulfilling, making it hard for new graduates to find jobs.

New graduates, including millennials and the up-and-coming gen z, also happen to be one of the markets associations are targeting. Your association needs to appeal to these new graduates and convince them to join in order to build a sustainable member base into the future. That means that the skills gap is a major area of opportunity for you. Bridge the gap and you clearly communicate your value to millennials as well as other young workers, helping convince them to join your association.

Understanding the Gap Between Education and Employment

The 2016 Association Role in the New Education Paradigm whitepaper, completed by Elizabeth Weaver Engel from Spark Consulting and Shelly Alcorn from Alcorn Associates, investigates the skills gap in detail. The whitepaper found that there are three key factors that are contributing to the gap and making it difficult for students to find work.

Factor #1) Colleges and Employers Are Focusing on Different Skills

Higher education professionals, employers, and the general population all have different ideas about the skills universities should focus on. According to the whitepaper, the majority of the general population rates gaining "skills and knowledge for a career" as the number one reason people should go to college. College leaders, on the other hand, rate learning to "think critically" as the number one reason people should go to college.

So while colleges are honing students' analytical skills, employers are searching for candidates with actionable skills, such as knowing how to use their industry's software systems. As a result, employers struggle to find new team members with the skills they need and students scramble to find a job they're qualified for.

Factor #2) Students Have Lower Competency Levels

Not only is there a mismatch in priorities between education and employers, there's also a proficiency problem. Students feel more prepared in a variety of skills and see themselves as advanced in subjects when they leave university, but employers disagree with the majority of students.

For instance, the whitepaper point out that 66% of college students think they're well-prepared for analytical thinking, but only 26% of employers agree. Similar discrepancies can be seen in skills such as teamwork, evaluating information, and communication.

This is a clear problem. College graduates are eager to find the careers they have been working towards for years, yet employers do not feel they are qualified. Both students and employers are victims in this situation. Employers are frustrated because they can't easily find skilled workers, while graduates are equally as frustrated because of high unemployment rates.

Factor #3) Governments Are Investing Less While Students Are Investing More

In the whitepaper, experts Engel and Alcorn note that there has been a lack of government funding within school districts and higher education since the recession in 2008. This lack of funding results in the decrease of educational services and programs through faculty layoffs, course cuts and reduced student resources.

With the disinvestment from the government comes a greater financial responsibility for students and their families, resulting in higher debt. Despite the higher cost, students are willing to invest in their education to get a good job, which is one indication that students recognize the importance of higher education. Unfortunately, while students are spending big to receive job skills, they're still leaving university ill-prepared.

Bridging the Skills Gap Takeaway

The skills gap between higher education and employers is significantly impacting your association's next generations of members. That gives you the opportunity to step in and demonstrate the value of membership.

Your association has access to employers and knows what skills they're looking for. Use that knowledge to develop affordable professional development programs that fill in the areas that higher education neglects, bridging the skills gap to help younger generations find jobs.

To reach the largest possible audience, provide options and opportunities for learning both during and after higher education. As students and young professionals realize that your association has programs that will help them land a good job, they'll see the value in your membership and be more likely to join.

Topics: Associations

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