In previous generations, education almost certainly led to employment, but sadly that is not the case for some 75 million young people who are looking for work. Granted there are varying degrees of education within this population, but the fact remains that something changed dramatically in the world of work while they were in school. Thanks to technological revolutions and globalization, jobs that were once well understood became more complex, relocated, or automated away. The widening mismatch between the expectations of young workers and employers has left a gap so large that in our company’s 2012 Talent Shortage Survey more than one third of employers reported difficulty filling their key positions.
One way to narrow the gap is to create a tighter link between educators and employers. Employers must partner with all schools to create courses and curriculums that develop the skills they demand now and in the future, while simultaneously increasing young people’s exposure to how work is changing in their companies and industries. The manufacturing industry is a great example of the generational disconnect between old work models and new. A recent study published by the Manufacturing Institute and Deloitte estimated that there are 600,000 unfilled jobs in the U.S. alone. This work and the work environment are far different than young people imagine, as the manufacturing industry struggles to shake off its old image. This highly technical, analytical, and increasingly collaborative work has created a shift to knowledge-based work, but students are rarely encouraged on this career path.
It is also crucial that education place greater understanding and emphasis on flexible learning models, mobile technology, and virtual work models, as fast-evolving technology is changing how, when, and where we work. Technology is oxygen for this generation, and leveraging their natural skills can lead to improved collaboration and innovation for employers.
As work becomes more specialized, young people can take away the hard lessons learned from previous generations—it is their responsibility to grow their knowledge and skills long after they receive their diplomas. One way is to embrace the increasingly open and free world of education, through platforms like edX, the collaboration between Harvard and MIT that offers free online courses from both universities.
While education will always play a critical role in enhancing employability, there must be increased collaboration between employers, educators, and individuals to improve the speed of building new skills and capabilities at the pace that the world of work is changing.