Rethinking the so-called "skills gap"

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Employers and higher education experts often refer to the existence of a "skills gap" when arguing that universities aren't preparing their graduates for the workplace. In a guest blog post for the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario (HEQCO) published last week, two representatives from the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance are making the case that post-secondary institutions should be placing a greater focus on increasing their graduates' skills awareness.

According to Victoria Lewarne and Marc Gurrisi, students have just as much difficulty articulating their skills as developing their skills in the first place. When students don't understand or can't communicate the depth of their skills to employers, it compromises their learning and undercuts their employability. As Lewarne and Gurrisi put it, "what value is there to learning anything if you cannot state what it is that you've learned? In this scenario, you've essentially learned nothing."

Post-secondary institutions across Ontario are independently exploring ways to encourage skills awareness among their students. Some schools emphasize the importance of course syllabi; others help students catalogue their experiences with co-curricular records (CCRs); others still use online tools like ePortfolios to facilitate reflection. All of these approaches have strengths and weaknesses.

EDGE helps students in non-co-op programs bridge the skills awareness gap with a series of targeted workshops and reflective exercises. The skills identification and articulation workshop gives students the tools they need to express their skills to employers, and reflection assignments are a major part of the framework that supports students' work and community experiences. Students who opt into EDGE have the skills to talk about what they've learned inside and outside of the classroom with confidence.

Want to learn more about the skills identification and articulation workshop? Send us an email at edge@uwaterloo.ca.