Bridging the skills gap: graduates need real-world work experience, says new report

Students need real-life work experience to secure employment in a post-pandemic world, say sustainability experts

A new report launched today (Thursday) by education and sustainability experts has called on universities and colleges to bridge the skills gap and better prepare their students with sustainability skills to increase their chances of employment in a post-pandemic and increasingly low carbon economy.

The new report, Future Graduate Skills Study, has been published by Change Agents and EAUC. It examines the growing disconnect between the skills education institutions promote as key graduate skills, and those that employers are looking for in an employee.

We will be working with the education sector on skills action plans, the embedding of sustainability into all courses and a new skills-based kickstart scheme – Ian Patton, CEO, EAUC

The report makes recommendations on how to bridge the skills gap, and highlights the necessity to do so given the urgent pace the economy and those employed within it must learn to decarbonise and adapt to the changes the pandemic has brought.

Bridging the skills gap

Iain Patton, CEO at EAUC, said: “The higher and further education sectors have been taking steps towards Net Zero and slowly bridging the skills gap for many years. Recently, we have seen a huge step forwards in this sector on the Net Zero agenda, with a new education Climate Commission creating climate action roadmaps and the sector working collaboratively to ensure education is ahead of the curve.

“The skills disconnect now needs to take a similar sized step to ensure young people are receiving future-proofed qualifications, and those in work and unemployed are upskilled to maximise the opportunities a  low carbon economy  will bring.”

Key recommendations of the Future Graduate Skills Study include:

  • All degree courses should involve at least two weeks (or one day per week for one semester) of work experience or a placement of some kind to enable students to develop real-world understanding of the professional or business workplace.
  • The government must establish a body or commission that facilitates and co-ordinates the necessary skills changes, through communication of best-practice approaches and provision of resources for universities. We support the call from Aldersgate Group for a National Skills Strategy and Commission – it is crucial that this is a cross-cutting group, with representation from young people, education institutions, education sector bodies and organisations, business and Government.
  • Students must be more proactive in seeking out additional and complementary skills alongside their academic studies through extra-curricular activity.
  • Businesses should look to build stronger relationships with local universities and colleges to support the bridging of the skills gap.

 

Patton continued: “The suggestions made by Aldersgate Group today, in their policy paper ‘Upskilling the UK workforce for the 21st century’, which we have fed into, chime well with our own findings. We must redress the decades-long disconnect between skills provision from education providers, and the skills required by employers. Post-pandemic recovery and the race to Net Zero have created the impetus to do just this.

“We will be working with the education sector on skills action plans, the embedding of sustainability into all courses and a new skills-based kickstart scheme. We will also work closely with business, and push the government to create the skills strategies and commission required to make this a success nationwide.”

Other findings include:

  • There needs to be greater communication and collaboration between universities, colleges and businesses, in terms of module design, teaching real-world problems, and organising work placements and internships.
  • While technical skills are important for certain specific roles, soft skills (such as communication, presentation, influencing behaviour change, analytical and critical thinking and team working) are incredibly valuable in all areas of business. These are lacking in many recent graduates and this must be addressed.
  • Both business leaders and graduates identified workplace skills as the main skills gap (eg negotiation, telephone skills, confidence working with superiors, and professionalism).
  • Business leaders consider volunteering, placements, and internships as valuable ways for students to improve and demonstrate their skillset, but graduates seemed less aware of the value of these extra-curricular activities for their future employment.

 

Lexie Jones, CEO at Change Agents UK added: “This research study highlights the urgent need for cross-sectoral collaboration on skills to evolve into active partnership where new solutions are jointly created.

Young people who were already facing a precarious future have seen this further compromised by the COVID-19 pandemic – Lexie Jones, CEO, Change Agents UK

“This should involve government, business and the education sector working together to build a framework for skills that will address the challenging targets for Net Zero and the delivery of the Sustainable Development Goals.

“Young people must be given a voice in this process; their perspective is important in understanding the skills gaps they currently experience and building a skills strategy for the future.

“2020 has shown us that radical change achieved at pace can be possible when it is necessary. Young people who were already facing a precarious future have seen this further compromised by the COVID-19 pandemic. We must act now to ensure they have the skills, knowledge and experience they will need to succeed as we enter this most challenging global period.”


You might like: Profile: Iain Patton, EAUC


 

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