180° Shift: Connect, Collaborate, Close the Skills Gap


  • Jacqueline Jones

    Jacqueline Jones


Jacqueline Jones
Executive Director, Strategy Partnerships and Innovation, Kaplan Higher Education Group

Jones: Hi, good afternoon. So growing up in Jamaica, I was taught to study hard, go to a good school, and then go off and get this great job after graduation and that would launch me off on a fantastic career. However, through my career, as I was going along, I started to sense a gap. I started to sense a gap that not everything that we were taught in school actually was expected by employers, or there was a gap as far as what we were expected to learn, what we were expected to know. We have trusted educational institutions to be closely aligned with the needs of employers and to know exactly what these employers needed.

So fast forward, it’s February 2014, earlier this year, I’m at a conference in Gallup and they’re unveiling the results of this landmark study, Gallup Lumina Study, which spoke about the attitudes of business leaders and higher education executives and it was a study of the attitudes. And so we interviewed higher education executives and these are the stats that I discovered at this conference. Lumina and Gallup interviewed these executives and basically found that 96 percent of chief academic officers or provosts that were interviewed in this study rated their institutions effective at preparing students for the world of work, while business leaders, only 11 percent agreed that graduates have the needed skills and competencies. That to me is a huge gap. In addition, 13 percent of business leaders think that the collaboration between higher ed and businesses are good. That means a majority of business leaders don’t believe that there’s a good partnership with higher education. I see a lot of nodding in the audience here as we’re going through this.

So when I saw this I was shocked in terms of just thinking to myself, how could this be? You have two critical stakeholders that are so far apart as far as how they feel this collaboration is going. And that’s when my 180º began. So in terms of looking at this I said, wait a minute, something has to change here. We have three constituencies that desperately need to work together. These constituencies, when I looked at it, you have the employers, the educational institutions, and the employees themselves that have to take some responsibility and accountability in terms of closing the skills gap.

Now, let’s start with the employee. At a Techonomy conference, in fact, two years ago I heard this stat that really rocked my world in terms of if you’re not learning something new every 12 to 16 months, you’re falling behind and you don’t even know it. So as an employee or lifelong learner, it’s really up to you to cultivate that mindset of lifelong learning.

Let’s look at employers. Another stat that was discussed during the study was the fact that internships are really critical for upscaling people, which can be expected. But one of the things we may not realize, only 50 percent of students actually fall, or below 50 percent fall in that 18 through 22 range, the traditional range. Therefore, a majority of college students are above—look like people like you and me in this room. So it’s really for employers to create opportunities to continually educate employees to get upskilled.

And then educational institutions obviously play a huge role in this as well, in terms of providing those opportunities for internships, having business leaders come back and actually teach in schools. That’s obviously critical.

So definitely learning about the study changed my perspective as far as what kind of programs we need to develop. Not only are we developing programs that actually teach people new skills, like data science, but we’re also developing programs that actually teach attitudes in terms of lifelong learning. For example, we’ve worked with companies such as LinkedIn to produce new programs. One such program is Career Journey, where we’ve interviewed highly successful people, over 60 interviews, and actually wrapped a course around it and actually embedded LinkedIn exercises to actually show people how to actually learn these new trades, but actually embark in the world of lifelong learning.

So my request to you, and invitation to business leaders in this room, really rethink the way you relate to educational institutions. Some of you may have already been, in terms of talking to your heads of HR, in terms of what are they doing to build these relationships. But really think about offering educational opportunities to learners of all ages, as far as internships, going back as industry leaders to actually become teachers in these institutions. It’s a big problem, and in order to solve this big problem we need all the stakeholders involved, and that’s the only way that I think we’ll really solve the skills gap. Thank you so much.

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