Higher Education

Why Higher Ed Needs to Evolve to Match Student Demands for Workplace Skills

Jasmine Quigley
September 18, 2023
Estimated read time: 5 minutes
Table of Contents

There is great debate around the value of a degree in today’s skill-based workplace. As higher education has become more accessible, the number of graduates has increased. This has highlighted a key issue. As more graduates enter the job market, employers report a growing disconnect between the skills they expect graduates to hold and the skills they have actually gained in higher education.

What does this mean for graduates? According to InsideHigherEd, policymakers agree that higher education institutions, including four-year universities, must evolve. To stay relevant in the future and produce work-ready graduates, higher education institutions need to deliver job-ready skills, not just a degree certificate.

What is skills-based hiring?

One of the top workplace trends in recent years is the willingness of companies to consider applicants based on their quantifiable skills rather than their degree or years of experience. This trend is known as skills-based hiring. According to 2023 LinkedIn data, global recruiters are five times more likely to search by skills over degrees. And in the UK alone, there has been a 90% increase in job postings that do not require a degree.

Why the switch to skills-based hiring?

Although graduate numbers continue to increase worldwide, degree qualifications fail to provide a high-resolution image of a candidate’s true abilities. 

Accredible CEO Danny King talks about this in The Future of Digital Credentialing video, “We realized that a big part of the problem is that we summarize people down into a low-resolution number or a letter, a GPA, or a grade. This student is an A; this student is a B. In reality, it is much more nuanced than that. If you average people out, they might sit on one side or another of this curve. But if you take somebody that might have been a low performer in one area and put them in another, they might excel.”

The demand for qualified candidates creates high competition in recruitment but many roles go unfulfilled. According to Blake Lawit, SVP and General Counsel at LinkedIn, “70% of the jobs listed in the United States require a bachelor’s degree, [but only] 37% of the workers have a bachelor’s degree. So there’s a mismatch there right off the top.”

How can higher ed evolve to match the demand for workplace skills?

Employers know what skills they need candidates to have, but education is created by educators, not employers. This creates an opportunity for collaboration between employers and educational institutions to target the most relevant soft and hard skills required in the workplace. Skill development needs to be prioritized as early as possible in education, but it also needs to be regularly reviewed to ensure it aligns with employer expectations. 

If higher education institutions adapt and evolve to meet students’ demands for workplace skills, they’ll increase the value of education and the number of graduates. If they stall or fail to evolve, graduate numbers will likely fall as the ROI of spending four years in higher education also decreases. 

Traditional higher education is expensive. If graduates aren’t getting the skills they need to start their careers, they will turn to other means of education—especially when they see their peers landing high-paying jobs without committing to years of student debt. 

This scenario is particularly true of Gen Z, who are beginning to enter the workforce. According to an ECMC Group survey, almost half of the Gen Zers surveyed believe they can be successful without a degree. The survey also revealed that 81% of today’s students demand skills that will be useful in the working world after college. They are concerned that as education costs rise, they will be forced into roles that will never clear down their student debt.

In Summary 

Higher education will always be the goal for many individuals, but whether it remains justifiable lands in the hands of educators. Higher education is responsible for meeting student demands to accommodate workplace skills training and job readiness without creating unreasonable debt levels. If institutions can evolve, everyone benefits. Graduates gain necessary workplace skills, employers expand their talent pool and accelerate time-to-hire, and higher education institutions ensure their programs remain relevant and valuable to their students.

Further Reading

Download our free guide, Digital Credentials in Higher Education and learn how higher education institutions use digital credentials to engage students, prevent credential fraud, motivate course completion, and reduce the time and cost of credentialing.

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