The US Department of Labor recognizes the difficulty of defining the number of symptoms that, in conjunction, diagnose a skills gap. For starters, issues about the relationship between job and training take different forms depending on the nation, the economic sector or the level along the hierarchy of the position itself.
But to focus the debate, it points to some of the most glaring issues, persisting in many economies around the world:
- For some in-demand fields, the output of skilled graduates is underserving them. The opposite is true for degrees with low demand.
- Candidate profiles made by job seekers are too rigorous vis-à-vis their actual needs.
- Related to the above, employers do not offer competitive compensation or accommodations proportional to the profiles they request.
- Employers do not provide on-the-job training, even when it saves money to do so. Let alone additional benefits like better morale and retention.
- Imbalance of skills, perhaps due to inflexibilities in educational programs. Tech-savviness often rivals communication, team work or soft skills in a given candidate, for example. There is also failure to timely respond to demand of new skills.
This complex, multi-layered debate would not be settled soon. But if the learning community, authorities and the workforce agree that there is a problem, and that some roads are worthier taking than others, we might be able to move forward.
Talent consultant firm ManpowerGroup recently announced that, in 2016, employers reporting difficulties filling out positions reached a ten-year high of 40%. In places like Japan, this share of employers went as high as 86%. IT Personnel, Skilled Trades (think carpentry, plumbing) and Sales candidates seekers are affected the most.
Online learning to the rescue
Many organizations, including LMS providers, such as Moodle & Partners, have played a visible role in convincing more companies to invest in online training. Less success is shown with colleges or governments. Over the last five years, employers receiving some form of workplace education went from 1 in 5 to 1 in 2, according to a Manpower survey. For many, this alone is hardly enough to counter the issue sufficiently, as some experts consider this a symptom of deeper problems in the relationship between “higher education and society at large”. But this view dismisses the efforts, results and policy value of online offerings, which time and again have stood up to the challenges and are now established names in online learning, sometimes in the education sector total.
Perhaps it would be time for heritage institutions and government officials to turn their eyes towards online education. LMS have shown time and again their ability to quickly respond to the environment and offer impactful solutions. Where an exclusively online experience is not enough, they have been known to devise experiential learning solutions, or think of new partnerships that create value, despite benefits for students, or the ecosystem they cannot profit from.
Experienced educator and 8-year member of the Student Lifecycle Services team at Blackboard, Christina Fleming, shares three practices that, with proper implementation, could scale up to widespread practice, including policy level, to begin tackling the gap.
- Experiential learning with a human at the wheel. For Fleming, this is about “embracing failure” as a pedagogical strategy. LMS have been able to evolve and provide more flexibility in the learning experience through a less structured setting. Technology can better promote trial and error as a cultural practice. Fleming acknowledges the limitations of automated learning and the reaffirmed importance of teachers and instructors. Something the founder of Moodle agrees when he emphasizes that Moodle was designed to empower teachers, not replace them.
- Program viability assessments that take the job market into consideration. LMS not only provide flexibility to adjust course when needed, but they can directly plug to data about students’ behavior and expectations, as well as economic stats. Moodle is stepping up its data game with upcoming Analytics Plans. Information and versatility is enough to provide students with better educational tracks that combine their passions and life interests with demand-guaranteed skills, and matching incomes.
- Partnerships with employers. This is perhaps where the “bridging” role of LMS is clearest. Nowadays, colleges and universities without an LMS are, while seldom, worrisome. Some providers are allowing people to pursue degrees they could have never otherwise. The LMS industry is more than ready to connect higher ed institutions and employers through career-long learning solutions, which both actors can vouch for as long as there is political will.
What about Moodle?
This ends as an open question, by necessity, but one truth stands: veritable solutions already exist. Moodle, unlike any other technological offering, is flexible enough to refine learning interventions over time, including the job market in the mix. Moodle Analytics Plans are setting up a place for next-generation analytics solutions that link skill acquisition with workplace performance. Besides, it is fueld by a community where activism has taken place. Policy and scaling are bigger issues. Nevertheless, it would be a good idea to find out more about what education officials around the world think of online learning as a strategy to deal with challenges affecting our nations’ skills.
Are you facing “skills gap”-related situations? Are you involved in a policy or decision making level? We’d love to know your story. Tell us about you in the comments, or through social media.