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4 reasons why a generational skills gap exists today—and isn’t closing

Can colleges and universities close the generation skills gap they helped create?

The AAC&U released a survey that corroborated what everyone already knew: a huge gap exists between the perceptions of students and employers about work readiness, particularly as it relates to generational study and work skills.

Today’s students believe that they are better prepared than ever to enter the workforce. However, their hiring counterparts think that the millennial generation is the most ill-prepared to date—still. Incidentally, this same study revealed that employers give hiring preference to candidates who have real-world experiences; unfortunately much of what is offered today in academia isn’t terribly “real world.”

5 Reasons Why a Generational Skills Gap Exists

1. Curricula Still Lacks Real World Lessons

It’s true that real-life experiences can help students develop skills that are often thought to be lacking by employers. However, authentic opportunities to learn what is required in the real world during most students’ higher education tenure are missing or offer inadequate systems to structure, measure and assess those applied learning opportunities.

Historically, institutions have had the goal of assuring that learners are exposed to the basics in key fields of study. Tests and exams deal with the low-level knowledge and skills of the discipline within silos of courses loosely strung together to constitute programs. Course-based essays can certainly be difficult, but still, they only amount to a manipulation of facts, and concepts within the course and discipline silo. Rarely are they multidisciplinary, metacognitive or reflective. Senior year courses are, by definition, rigorous, but do they truly prepare students for the real world and offer the rigors of authentic learning?

2. The Environment is Antiquated

The Boomer generation created an undergraduate learning environment with the goal to be seen as hardworking, solo workers deserving of personal status. For them and their successors, (Generation X) group work that made tasks harder or out of the norm were not desirable and became negative narratives on course evaluations. Open-ended, authentic tasks were considered messy.

Yet, real, authentic problems often have no one right answer.

However, due to many Millennial students’ entrenched passivity and occasional resistance to new forms of learning thanks to years of status-quo learning in K-12, educators felt empowered to stick with Boomer generation teaching: coverage on content, good grades, course completion for credit hours, a degree and then a job. This is the social contract that does nothing to raise the bar.

(Next page: Causes of the generational skills gaps 3-5)

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