Universities must continuously implement new tactics to grow learners’ in-demand workplace skills and competencies.

4 ways to align higher education with in-demand workplace skills


Universities must continuously implement new tactics to grow learners’ in-demand workplace skills and competencies

Key points:

Higher education plays a crucial role in preparing students with the right skills to meet current and future workforce needs, providing one of the best drivers of economic mobility. Learners gain the necessary preparation for a successful career, and the workforce needs a new generation of workers brimming with essential skills and ideas. However, today’s rapidly evolving job landscape is making it more challenging, with a recent Salesforce report revealing only 11 percent of students felt prepared for the workforce.

To equip students with in-demand workplace skills for their future paths, institutions need to better align curricula with current and future industry trends. According to the World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Report 2023, 44 percent of workers’ core skills are expected to change in the next five years.

Here’s how the higher education industry can keep up with shifting demands to bridge the skills gap and ensure students will be competitive in the job market:

Integrate targeted skills-building into general education.

In order to effectively match skills development with dynamic workforce requirements, universities must continuously implement new tactics to grow learners’ in-demand skills and competencies. Educating students on comprehensive knowledge and skills that align with growing workforce needs will more positively benefit learners throughout their careers.

According to the aforementioned Future of Jobs Report, creative and analytical thinking are two of the top skills growing in importance for employers. Soft skills, such as leadership and critical thinking, are more essential than ever as automated technology continues to advance. Although Cengage Group’s 2023 Graduate Employability Report found that 66 percent of employers are now prioritizing these uniquely human skills, recent graduates chose soft skills development as the most lacking area of instruction.

Expand industry-relevant training and partnerships with employers.

When joining the workforce, incoming workers need to be able to clearly illustrate to potential employers the relevant training they have received. Tying hands-on experience into academic training prepares students by developing specific skills through job tasks and creating direct paths to employment after graduation. Programs that require and facilitate internships, externships, apprenticeships, and real-world projects help students expand their knowledge outside the classroom before fully stepping into the workforce.

Partnerships between employers and higher education institutions offer mutual benefits by supporting recruitment efforts and allowing students to apply their training. Creating an advisory board to create, develop, and maintain employer relationships can help expand experiential learning opportunities.

Implement certification programs.

Proving well-defined skills that can be practically applied within the workforce is an increasingly important aspect of curriculum design. In fact, the Cengage Group report revealed 39 percent of employers believe workplace skills training credentials are the most important consideration when hiring entry-level employees.

Integrating certification programs into the assessment process can measurably improve learner outcomes and career advancement by providing a clear set of future credentials. As institutions evaluate various certification programs, they will need to focus on overall quality and alignment with workforce needs. Since trends and needs vary by industry, degree program designers must keep tabs on which certifications are most valuable to employers over time.

Ensure familiarity with advancing tools and technologies.

AI solutions are rapidly reshaping job roles throughout industries. According to Cengage Group’s report, the growth of AI has prompted 59 percent of employers to prioritize different skills when hiring. In addition to developing inherently human skills, future workers will need to grow their technological literacy and AI skills as companies integrate these tools to enhance operations. Students will need to develop an understanding of how to effectively utilize new technologies within their work. Knowing this, institutions must keep tabs on how tools disrupt and reshape industry roles.

That same report found only 41 percent of graduates felt their degree program taught them the workplace skills they needed for their first job, a dramatic decrease from 63 percent in the 2022 report. To keep up with an advancing world, institutions need to re-evaluate their strategies to determine how they prove the value of their educational outcomes. By focusing more on in-demand workplace skills, colleges and universities can retain learners and set the next generation of workers up for success.

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