Historically, universities were not career-oriented, but were established as institutions for the purpose of research and learning. Over time, many university courses offered curriculums that were sufficient to land a job in the last century. However, a lot of today’s centers of education are missing the knowledge that is required for the current job market, given the digital transformation of the 21st century. The unexpected Covid-19 outbreak has only increased the need for digital skills: many businesses moved online; employees worked remotely; meetings moved from the boardroom to the living room; and some organizations needed IT and cyber professionals to enable smooth and safe operations. In parallel, ecommerce surged, and with it, the need for digital savvy. All of these factors have contributed to the reality that many graduates do not have the relative proficiencies required by current employers.
Despite the mismatch between education and vocational proficiencies, many employers still list academic degrees as a requirement. Employers may view college degrees as a measure of a student’s commitment to a topic, fulfillment of long-term goals, or a desire for knowledge and learning.
How can universities overcome this gap? By adding dedicated continuing education centers for technology jobs, universities can produce high-tech professionals who are trained and ready to start working.
Following are five ways to produce high-tech professionals:
1. Enrich economic and business administration curriculums with high-tech related courses
One of the ways to expedite attractiveness of university grads is to offer high-tech related courses to students in disciplines other than computer science, as economic or business administration departments.
Colleges and universities are not going to be extinct in the near future. However, a shift is needed to increase their value to students as well as to employers. According to Code.org, high-tech jobs are among the highest-compensated for new graduates. Fewer than 3% of college grads earn a computer science degree and only 8% of STEM graduates are in computer science.
In the aftermath of Covid-19, the United Nations reports that even in many countries with high incomes, many are not wealthy enough to live beyond the poverty line for three months. They need skills that will make them employable quickly rather than pursuing academic studies for years.
2. Add professional training programs to computer science studies
Certain colleges may have taken the approach of making their students more employable by encouraging them to continue their education towards more advanced degrees. However, with skill-based training, even graduates with PhDs may not be ready to work in high-tech. According to U.S. politician Haley Stevens, although there are half a million cyber security vacancies, these still remain open because “college computer science graduates often lack the needed skills and hands-on experience”.
Current university programs may not necessarily adapt their curriculums to reflect the requirements of employers. UCLA’s student newspaper, the Daily Bruin stated that its “computer science department is largely based on 20th-century theoretical foundations of the field.” Offering “high-tech intense training add-on programs” for students is a proactive way to instill practical skills in computer science students. This can be a win-win solution for raising the success rate of computer science graduates in the students’ high-tech careers.
3. Shorten time to prepare students to meet workforce needs
The unforeseen Covid-19 outbreak has hurled additional workforce challenges for both high-tech companies and higher education institutes. Paul Le Blanc, President of New Hampshire University, told Forbes that the economic crisis needs a quick response. Four-year degrees may be a luxury and inadequate to supply the knowledge and skills required to respond to workforce demands. He calls for institutions to get people up to speed in months rather than years. To shorten time-to-market needed for the high-tech industry, the post Covid-19 university training will require employers, universities and recruiters to step-up their knowledge sharing., repackage educational programs, and build tighter cooperation between universities and the high-tech industry.
4. Provide hands-on skills opportunities to narrow the skills gap
Continuing education units offering job-role oriented high-tech training can help universities upgrade their students’ academic programs and allow graduates to land a well-paying job. By turning unskilled individuals into ready to work junior high-tech professionals, these units can improve the reputation and placement rate for colleges and universities. They can also develop curriculums tailored specifically to employer demands by providing up to date technologies and instruction methods, so that students will acquire concepts and knowledge from day one.
5. Equip students with soft skills
Employers in the 21st century are seeking candidates who can learn quickly, be self-motivated and be excellent communicators and interpersonal relationship mediators. Communication skills may also include writing, leadership, teamwork and problem-solving. High-tech jobs are not just about hiding behind a screen. They involve being able to speak to other stakeholders effectively or manage a team —if junior employees want to move into roles with more responsibility.
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The role of a university has changed and continues to evolve due to cultural, financial, and industrial occurrences. In light of the high-tech job market today, time is of the essence in narrowing the gap between industry and university. The five ways of helping universities produce job-ready, high-tech professionals, outlined above, are only some of many methods available to adapt to the current situation, and prepare for the future.
* Some figures in this article are based on statistics released prior to March 2020 and are subject to change due to the unforeseen Covid-19 outbreak.