Salt Lake City is committed to finding skilled employees that our business owners need. Our Department of Economic Development Workforce Development Manager Jake Maxwell offers this latest blog on how to do just that – through building a stronger, more efficient learning highway. As always, we’d love to hear your feedback.

The question about the quality, work-ready college graduates keeps coming up. There are many disputes back and forth between education and industry. One, college is not producing the “soft skills” like teamwork and critical thinking, and two, industry is being challenged to re-evaluate why they require a degree in the first place. I would like to break down both positions.

Education – It’s too slow. It’s not just too slow for a booming economy, it’s too slow for a 4th industrial revolution. There are a few things bogging down the system in education and we could see some meaningful gains if we took a fresh look.

College Accreditation – This keeps schools who want to be forward thinking stuck in requiring the same fluff coursework that students are now pushing against, dragging degrees that could take 2 years out to 4 years. If college is a consumable product, consumption is down while prices keep going way up. If the #1 reason folks get a degree is to get a “good job”, is it fair to assume industry informed curriculum should not just be part of the process for Higher Ed, but the standard?

Credit Articulation – Imagine you are an adult learner who has work experience who wants to go back to school to get more credentials, but you find your investment in previous coursework will not transfer to your school of choice. Imagine you are a high school student trying to get a jump start on college by enrolling in concurrent enrollment courses, but you find those credits do not transfer (articulate) to eventual schools of your choice. The culprit for this problem falls back College Accreditation. College accreditation is certainly good for weeding out schools who prey on underserved populations, leaving them with debt they will never repay at a wage that is not even a living wage. However, for a real learning highway to be strong, there must be on-ramps and off-ramps, not dead ends or complete gaps. This provides disincentives for folks trying to better themselves, only to find their previous investment is not worth anything. Often the result is losing faith that the school of their choice is even for them, and often they stick to the previous path that will not take them as far. It seems like a winning strategy for schools to enroll adult learners who know better what they want to be, have work experience, and have much more to lose if they fail, supposing many have a family, mortgage, etc.

We cannot put all the blame on schools or their accrediting bodies though. Businesses during the recession found so much confidence to use the Bachelors or Masters degree as an arbitrary screening tool to hire people. Businesses who have really figured it out are looking at competency-based screening model. For instance, a technology company can have a kid who learned how to hack a government agency in his or her basement perform a similar exercise for their cybersecurity company.

From my perspective, the gulf between Higher Education and Industry need is larger than the gulf between Industry and the legitimacy of their hiring practices. However, I could not say how many more qualified candidates businesses would see if one problem vs. the other was fixed.