Organisational Capability

The University Skilling Challenge

University and career skills

It is increasingly evident that employers have been moving toward adopting the ‘competency-based’ workforce whereby job roles are defined by sets of knowledge, skills and behaviors (demonstrated through experience). Managing workforce competencies has become an underpinning capability for addressing the challenge of the ‘workforce of the future’ by employers. This need is accentuated in careers facing rapid change due to automation and technology disruption and with a growing recognition of the importance of higher-order ‘soft skills’, such as creative problem solving.

At the end of the day corporate performance is predicated on having the right people, with the right skills, in the right job! It is not surprising then that this focus is now being reflected in employers’ hiring practices.

In a recent report by the US Chamber of Commerce Foundation, it was highlighted that 74% of employers now require credentials as part of their hiring practices. Of this group 41% are using this to verify the actual skills of candidates.

At the same time, one of the critical performance indicators for universities is the employability of its graduates. A key question for universities then is how well graduates are being prepared to meet the skill requirements of prospective employers and how rapidly they can adjust to the changing skills needs of employers over time?

So what then is the quandary for the university?

It is essentially this; the core education ‘product’ of the university is a qualification, commonly defined by a set ‘learning outcomes’ and that rarely (with some minor exceptions) make mention of competencies needed in specific jobs and careers. This requires employers to subjectively interpret the value of a degree irrespective of whether or not a degree is accredited by a professional body (who often face their own challenges in this regard). It is not a surprise then that the value of the university degree (at all levels) is increasingly being called into question by employers most affected by workforce dislocation and technology disruption.

Take for example PWC, one of the big four consulting firms, where holding a degree in no longer a mandatory requirement for recruitment. As an alternative pathway, they offer 18-month higher apprenticeships and longer traineeships for young people straight from high school. This is a trend likely to be replicated across multiple sectors. Part of this evolving solution is also supporting new hires with ongoing training and education that directly contributes to job performance and support for downstream career change.

As educators our challenge is multifaceted:

  • creating greater relevance to the competency-based workforce within an employer organisations;
  • ensuring we are setting graduates up to be as competitive as possible in the employment market; and
  • establishing the foundation of job readiness and success in their chosen job all require a laser-like focus by institutions.

It is clear that those universities who can adjust to this challenge and differentiate themselves by defining qualifications through required industry and job competencies, as well as supporting lifelong learning, will not only retain their relevance into the future, but likely grow their share of the pie.

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Peter is the Director Open Professional Education QUT Graduate School of Business & QUTeX. Peter has extensive global experience in developing and delivering transformation solutions for individuals and organisations through the interface between education and technology. He teaches into specialist subject areas such as workforce and organisational transformation, innovation and strategy within the Graduate School of Business. With over 30 years senior and executive experience across both the private and public sectors as well as a former founder of a number of successful technology ventures, Peter presides on the Boards of several education technology companies, is a partner in a technology venture fund and is an advisor to state and Federal governments bodies on workforce strategy, industry skilling and microcredential policy. He is currently the Chair of the Queensland State Council for the Australian Information Industry Association (AIIA) - Australia's peak industry body for the ICT sector.

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