The future is bright. The economy is improving. The number of job openings is increasing. Now the challenge for employers is to fill their workforce with qualified workers. A recent Association of American Colleges and Universities online survey reveals the wants and needs of employers. “It Takes More than a Major: Employer Priorities of College Learning and Student Success” shows that employers are looking for both soft skills as well as hard skills.
Innovation is a top priority for 95 percent of employers surveyed. They give preference to college graduates with hard skills and soft skills “that enable them to contribute to innovation in the work place.” Business growth depends on improved or new marketable services and products. It is equally important to be innovative in business operations, and recruiting and retaining talent. Businesses can’t remain static when US demographics are changing.
The top three soft skills employers require are critical thinking, communication and complex problem solving. True to the AACU survey title “It Takes More than a Major…,” more than 93 percent of employers said that these three skills are more important than an employee’s major. Critical thinking and complex problem thinking fuel creativity that leads to growth. Communication promotes teamwork and moves solutions and products to the marketplace. Seventy-five percent of employers said they wanted higher education to place more emphasis on these soft skills along with hard skills and applied knowledge.
Other soft skills that employers want affect both workplace culture and business relationships. More than 90 percent of the surveyed employers said it is important for their employees to have “ethical judgment and integrity, intercultural skills and the capacity for continued new learning.” Cultural attitudes and practices influence the marketplace and all businesses, either directly or indirectly. Employees with the soft skills to understand and work with changes will help businesses meet new demands.
Furthering education is the key to business success.
The National Network of Business and Industry Associations creates links between business and learning opportunities. Its mission is to “improve economic opportunity and quality of life to Americans by better connecting the working world and the learning world” (http://actfdn.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/National-Network_FactSheet_July2014.pdf). This Network includes leaders in manufacturing, retail, healthcare, energy, construction, hospitality, transportation and information technology fields. These diverse areas of business represent about 85 percent of the projected job growth by 2020.
The Network is also calling for “Expanding business-led work-and-learn models that give people the hands-on skills and real-work experiences.” Hard skills and soft skills demanded by jobs will shift and change to reflect changing technology and global relationships. Education for business is an ongoing process.
This presents businesses with a dynamic opportunity. Employers can provide education and training that meets strategic needs. Offering tuition assistance and training for employees puts businesses in a position where they can complement current skills and fill needs from within their talent pool. The Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce report “College Is Just the Beginning” shows that this is a common practice. Businesses are key stakeholders in higher education. They spend $590 billion each year for formal and informal employee training. Tuition reimbursement accounts for 16 percent of the formal training budget. (https://cew.georgetown.edu/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/Trillion-Dollar-Training-System-.pdf)
“Business, educators and job trainers must align their efforts to make sure workers have the skills they need for the jobs of today and tomorrow… it is no longer enough to describe and quantify the gap. It is time to get to work to close it for good,” said Business Roundtable president, John Engler in February 2014. (http://actfdn.org/business-industry-groups-advance-efforts-close-skills-gap/).
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