Mind the gao

There’s much talk around the skills gap and the lack of STEM subjects, however, in my opinion the STEM subjects are relatively well catered for. Many students are coming out of school or university with great technical skills thanks to the focus of their course. Their degrees were set up for it and technically, they’re brilliant.

However, what employers struggle with is finding mature and balanced young people who can analyse problems objectively and make clear rational decisions. Of course, these are skills that generally come with maturity but I do feel universities should focus more on these “preparation” skills before students join the world of work.For example, technical students in areas such as engineering generally come well prepared for the workplace skills-wise but in office based areas like admin and reporting, students are generally woefully weak and do not have the skills needed to understand, analyse and address fairly basic tasks such as project control or task management.

With this in mind we have generally found it difficult to recruit younger people for some fairly basic roles. They are simply not prepared for the more mundane aspects of the working world and this is one of the fundamental things that needs to be addressed within education.Being prepared for the working environment and all that it entails from doing admin to job sheets to typing, these are all skills the older generation took for granted and were taught from school level but now are seriously lacking within today’s education.

Companies also need to take their share of the blame and put in place traditional induction processes and training to address this basic lack of workplace skills and ensure new employees can hit the ground running. On the job training is almost always a pre-requisite as companies generally have to “grow their own” talent. Selection of the right stock is always difficult and we will always employ psychometrics and task based assessments as well as absorbing the candidates into the actual environment to test their response. Sadly, this isn’t the case with all employers meaning that graduates are constantly starting on the back foot without the first-hand working knowledge they need to succeed in their role.

Apprenticeships are one way that students and employers can ensure they receive the best of both worlds. The new “apprenticeship degrees” should be great and of course go back to the principles of “sandwich degrees” which were also very successful. We feel on the job experience laced with general academic and life skill development is “the holy trinity”.

Many argue that addressing the skills gap should be the work of the government. However, support for apprentices is quite strong but that’s not to say it couldn’t be expanded on. Extra modules could be put in place to cover off basic accounting, invoicing, admin skills and of course IT skills not to mention basic social skills needed for working within a team. The problem with Government involvement is that it almost inevitably ends up with vested interests/self-interest at which point the Government stop listening and imposes inappropriate responses.Here at Online Business School we do try to practice what we preach. Our online programmes do focus on skills improvement as learning outcomes as well as knowledge and understanding. We do this by focussing on practicality in subject areas rather than theory alone. For example students are not just asked to regurgitate cash flow theory or marketing planning, they are asked to analyse a balance sheet and devise a bone fide marketing plan. Reality and practicality are important aspects for learning.

A thorough induction process will enable graduates to come into the workplace full equipped for the role they’ve been given. It’s also key that those already working with us have the skills to manage the onboarding process and impart their existing working knowledge. Never underestimate the skills of your existing employees, they were once the fresh faced graduates either from school, college or university you’re now recruiting.

By John Holden, founder and CEO of Online Business School