Higher Ed Institutions Need to Understand the Emerging Skillsets

Despite a slowing economy, there are currently more than 11 million job openings in the United States according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, and yet employers are struggling to fill essential roles. Students, graduates, and employers alike are experiencing this gap between what employers look for in potential hires and the skills, or lack thereof, that students possess post-graduation. 

The mismatch between the skills and experiences that jobs require and the qualifications of job seekers is leading to a labor shortage, whereas students view the phenomena as a lack of entry-level jobs. Experts in the field have deliberated the cause of the skills gap, and it’s likely that a major contributing factor is the rate in which the workforce is evolving. New skill needs in the labor industry are emerging at a faster pace than ever before, quickly rendering recently obtained skills outdated. 

In fact, a 2022 report conducted by the Burning Glass Institute analyzed more than 15 million job postings and found that nearly 40% of the top 20 skills required for the average job had changed since 2016 and that over 20% of the referenced skills were entirely new. As needs shift and the shelf-life of skills shortens, employers and higher education institutions must adapt their work needs and program capabilities beyond simple and static notions of job title or category and instead conceptualize work and skills with specificity 

To assist in the reframing of the skills gap epidemic, a recent report by Northeastern University’s “Center for the Future of Higher Ed and Talent Strategy,” Understanding the Emerging Skillstech Landscape, found that identifying and analyzing job candidate skillsets is becoming a top priority in today’s economy.

The five main takeaways from the report are:

  1. The creation of one universal skills taxonomy appears to be an unrealistic scenario. Instead, organizations in the skills solutions market are focused on developing tools that are contextual and adaptable. Industry- and occupation specific taxonomies are expected to be especially important.
  2. Many organizations are increasingly thinking of skills as multi-dimensional – shifting the dialogue beyond simple and static keywords to instead focus on skill clusters, proficiency, and validation.
  3. It is early in the still evolving skillstech landscape. The development of this market is expected to include new entrants, potential consolidation, and continued work to integrate with other HR systems.
  4. Establishing an architecture for skills portability and data consistency can benefit all stakeholders.
  5. The growing application of AI and machine learning to talent and skills demands greater attention to ethical and responsible use and ensuring high quality data.

Documentation, matching, and assessment of talent corresponding to job requirements and employer needs are essential if the future of the workforce is rooted in skills acquired. Through an AI-powered, skills and competency toolkit, LifeJourney, Territorium, a global education technology company that makes skills and learning certified, verifiable and portable, has been a leader in rallying skills transparency, evidence of knowledge, and empowering learner agency.

The measurement of skills and documentation through a comprehensive learner record (CLR) that adheres to shared standards has the power to create a more equitable workforce Jonell Sanchez, Chief Growth Officer of Territorium, commented, “A CLR captures an individual's skills, competencies, and qualifications in a detailed manner, going beyond conventional education and work experience. This comprehensive view allows employers to evaluate candidates based on their full potential.”

CLR can also enhance skill based evaluation and reduce bias. “Standardizing CLRs facilitates a more efficient and accurate skill-based evaluation of applicants, which helps level the playing field for individuals from diverse educational and work backgrounds. Documenting skills and achievements through a CLR may help reduce unconscious biases in employment decisions by focusing on the abilities that an individual brings,” said Sanchez. 

The information provided by the Understanding the Emerging Skillstech Landscape report can be widely used by employers, higher education leaders, policymakers, and technology firms alike. The data can help guide employers as they consider how to invest in skills-based talent management; assist education leaders in facilitating better skills-related outcomes for students; illuminate areas for policymakers to support and leverage the potential of skills-based approaches; and guide technology firms in their offerings for skills-based solutions.