Great Resignation News: What Can Your College Do?

The workforce isn't what it used to be. How can colleges prepare their future graduates for this post-pandemic job market?

Forty-seven million Americans quit their jobs in 2021 for many reasons, including better pay and more flexibility.

For college grads, the Great Resignation News represents an opportunity. In fact, there were 11.3 million openings in July 2022 – that’s nearly two jobs for every job seeker. Quit rates are high in both an hourly wage and highly skilled professional positions, opening new doors for students looking to break into an industry.

And while demand for new hires could slow down in the near future during a recession, experts predict that people will continue to leave their jobs at high rates, and demographic shifts will create plenty of job openings longer term. 

The quitting trend does not mean that a high proportion of graduates are employable by default. In February 2022, 41.4 percent of recent U.S. college graduates were underemployed. Clearly, there is a gap between what students are learning and what employers need.

Forward-thinking higher learning leaders are taking note and making thoughtful investments in student employability. For example, Arizona State University (ASU) has recently expanded a pilot program that offers students experiential learning via the Riipen marketplace for work-based learning

Correcting the skills mismatch is well worth it: The U.S. Department of Education has been mulling over a “gainful employment” rule that would pressure higher learning institutions to show how they are producing work-ready graduates. A high share of alumni with great careers can also help attract prospective students and boost enrollments.

Skills Employers Look for in College Graduates

Preparing students for success in the job market is not easy; however, what employers need from graduates is continuously evolving.

Thanks to a rapid digital transformation spurred on by the pandemic, software platforms like Marketo, ZenDesk Plus, and Netsuite have gained serious traction, creating jobs that require workers to have new skills. In fact, IDC forecasts that the use of cloud services of Salesforce and its ecosystem “will create 9.3 million new jobs by 2026,” and more than a third of those jobs will require digital skills. 

This transformation will impact jobs across sectors. As a senior consultant at Gartner stated in this report: “The demand for digital skills continues to surge in IT, but the fastest growth is occurring in nontraditional functions like marketing, finance, and sales.”

Longer term, advanced technologies like AI and intelligent robots will generate new jobs and different kinds of tasks for workers across sectors to perform. Even as work becomes more tech-driven, employers will continue to look for graduates with strong “human” skills like collaboration, communication, and creativity. 

The explosive growth in new skills means higher learning leaders aren’t trying to solve the skills mismatch on their own. Industry leaders are incentivized to partner with institutions to create job-ready graduates. If an organization doesn’t have employees with the right skills, it can't successfully pivot to a new business model, grow, or innovate. 

4 Ways to Set Students Up for Success in the Labor Market

Now is the time to rethink how the higher education system prepares students for the labor market. Employers are desperate for new skills, and students demand a return on their educational investment. Consider the following approaches to help your students hit the ground running in the real world:

1. Know the numbers

At Texas State Technical College, solving the great skills mismatch starts with crunching the numbers. The institution promotes itself as “the only technical college in Texas whose funding depends on whether our graduates get jobs.” They live up to this promise by tracking alumni earning power and calculating the differential between graduate earnings and minimum wage. This enables them to curate a list of technical programs that consistently generate great results for its graduates. 

Labor market analytics can also help higher learning leaders optimize their programs. For example, the Skillabi product from Lightcast translates course content into work-relevant skills. This produces an apples-to-apples comparison of what you teach and what employers need. Armed with this insight, you can adjust your curriculum by either doubling down on skills you are already teaching that are in demand or adding new in-demand skills to your curriculum where there are gaps.

2. Augment broad-based learning 

Sometimes it makes sense to complement existing programs with external resources rather than perform a curriculum edit. This blended approach is particularly useful for four-year programs. Liberal arts degrees generally produce well-rounded students who can think critically. While employers value these skills, students who graduate from these programs might lack the specific digital skills needed to perform well in the modern workplace. 

Online learning platforms like Coursera, EdX, or Udemy can help higher learning institutions give students the best of both worlds by augmenting their degrees with certificates that are attractive to potential employers. Identify which courses on these platforms have the most relevant content, and link out to them via your online student career hub.

3. Support students on the fast track

Among technical colleges, micro-credential certifications are becoming more common. These programs give students hands-on experience and put them on the shortest path possible to good-paying jobs in fields such as advanced manufacturing.

Because these programs are often delivered in a compressed format, students must have all the content they need right at the start of the session to feel more prepared, perform better, and increase their chances of success in school – and in the workplace. Consider how you can provide students with day-one access to digital textbooks through a Universal Learning platform

4. Explore new types of partnerships

You don’t necessarily have to work directly with employers to provide students with real-world experience. Intermediaries can provide another route to on-the-job training.

For example, the University of North Florida (UNF) has partnered with Optimum Healthcare IT (a consulting firm) to offer a 12-week apprenticeship program. The firm’s customers are hospitals that need people who know how to use EPIC software. The idea is that the students train with the consultants first, then eventually land a job with the hospitals. 

Hiring managers view prior experience as the most reliable sign of competency, which can put fresh graduates at a disadvantage when competing for open positions. That’s why many post-secondary institutions leave no stone unturned and go beyond traditional internship programs to provide more opportunities for comprehensive work-integrated learning. 

Job-Ready Graduates: A Win-Win-Win Situation

Colleges can stay relevant in the face of a fast-changing labor market where there are plenty of jobs for people with the right skills. When students are job-ready, it benefits everyone: Graduates get more value from their degrees, employers can position themselves for growth with the right talent, and institutions can attract prospective students.

This is not a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants deal. It’s about carefully examining labor market data, partnering with the right industry players, and ensuring students have access to all the course content they need on day one.

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