Preparing Students for the Modern Workplace

According to a study released last week by The Chronicle, US employers are finding that job candidates are lacking basic workplace proficiencies, like adaptability, communication skills, and the ability to solve complex problems. This resonates strongly with a study published last week by Ipsos Public Affairs, the British Council, and Booz Allen Hamilton – “Culture at Work”, which found that finding qualified candidates is rated as the most pressing business challenge facing employers today, not just in the US but globally.

But why is this? Are businesses today vastly different to businesses 20 years ago? The Chronicle study suggests that the workforce is changing because of the “technological transformation and evolving expectations that employees be ready to handle everything straight away.” According to the article, new-graduates are not lacking in technical skills but in “knowing how to think”, and not just having knowledge but knowing “how to apply that knowledge.”

The “Culture at Work” study supports the idea that the workforce is changing, but the analysis takes a slightly different perspective on why. It suggests that today’s globally oriented business environment is a key driver in the changing needs that employers have of employees. Employers feel that candidates require the skills necessary to navigate this multicultural environment – “intercultural skills” – and that these skills are currently lacking in the current labor market. Employers require employees with intercultural skills to keep teams running efficiently, build trust with clients, and develop relationships with new clients. The risks of having employees who do not possess strong intercultural skills are miscommunication and conflicts within teams, as well as loss of clients and damage to the company’s global reputation.

Despite debate over the specific reasons for the gap between employer needs and the current workforce, both studies show that employers feel strongly that education needs to better prepare their students for their place in the workforce. With families increasingly seeing higher education as an investment the future, higher education certainly has a role to play in developing the communication, problem-solving and intercultural skills of students, though it will be important to identify the specific things that universities – right down to the classroom level – can do to  and that with regards to developing these skills as well as to look at the responsibilities employers themselves have in developing the skills that they need within their business.