By Lynn Zimmerman
Editor, Teacher Education
A couple days ago, I heard a report on BBC News at WUNC about the connection between higher education and the job market in the UK. A recent report showed that almost 60% of college graduates were not able to find jobs in their field or even at their level of education. Some analysts are saying a university education is worthless and a waste of money, so they are advocating a return to apprenticeships.
However, the speaker said that he thinks that university education needs to be better aligned with what’s going on in the workforce. He also asserted that the workforce needs to be more open-minded about the skills they are looking for. He used the example that if you are going to be a biochemist, you need to learn certain knowledge and skills. However, for other bio-tech jobs, many of the skills one learns in any STEM program can give the employee the necessary basic skill set, which they can then refine on the job.
When I worked at a high school here in the US, I was part of a workforce readiness initiative for high school students. A representative from the local phone company told us to send them applicants who can read and write and be on time and they can do the rest with their in-house training. At the time, I thought that was a little simplistic, and I still do, but there is some truth in what he says.
This story also made me think about technology and education as well as MOOCs, other educational delivery systems, and the cost of education. First, I want to make it clear that I think there is more to university education than “skills training.” I think the university is a place to expand our awareness, have the opportunity to explore issues, and learn to think, really think. However, I also believe that higher education needs to take a step back and re-think how it is educating.
One area that should be addressed is the current model of students taking two years of basic courses, English, math, science, etc., before they can start their major courses. If high schools are doing their job, students should have this basic knowledge before entering the university. If they don’t then, perhaps, these deficits can be addressed with online competency-based courses that students take along with their major courses.
There are several advantages to this idea. First, students learn the skills they need, but save time and money. Second, these courses can help teach mastery skills as they are developing or refining competencies, such as writing skills and critical thinking. Then in major courses, students can integrate these skills into their acquisition of abstract theory and concrete knowledge needed to develop what they need to find jobs and be successful in their chosen careers.
What are your thoughts about this issue? Have you experienced this type of model (blend of online competency-based basic courses and major courses) or another model that helps better prepare students for the 21st century workforce while assuring them a quality education?