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A Review of Savvy Literature on the Skills Gap, Part II - Issue #3

Workforce Monitor
A Review of Savvy Literature on the Skills Gap, Part II - Issue #3
By Workforce Monitor • Issue #3 • View online
Hi everyone,
We are in our early start-up phase, working hard at making this information service easy to read and as useful to educators as possible. Constructive criticism is always welcome.
Thank you,
George Lorenzo
glorenzo@wfmonitor.com
In Part II of our current series on the “skills gap,” we take a look at some additional articles and reports that provide information that can be helpful for colleges and universities as they begin their climb out of a devastating year of enrollment declines and budget cuts. 
Introduction
Colleges and universities continuously cultivate new and existing programs that are more effective at putting students on meaningful career paths that match up with the modern-day skills gap. Additionally, due to a student debt crisis, there has long been an emphasis on creating new programs that are not as expensive and much shorter in length than a four-year-degree pathway.
It’s no secret that students are seeking more streamlined, targeted, career-oriented educational pathways that don’t break their pocketbooks. A great number of these educational pathways are being created and promoted online by non-Academy entities and market-savvy for-profit higher education institutions that target potential student enrollees who might have normally started or returned to a post-secondary education at a public college or university. As the Academy feels the pangs of an enrollment crisis, they must enter into a highly competitive race for these students, not only because it’s the right thing to do, but because they need to do it to survive financially.
Understanding the skills gap is an obvious place to start when developing more effective educational pathways. And, of course, program development is no easy task, as it requires academic leaders/administrators, faculty members, and instructional and curriculum design professionals to work together in teams in which controversial issues related to academic freedoms and top-down mandates often come into play.
Gaining a keen understanding of the overall modern-day skills gap is also not an easy task. There is an over-abundance of articles and reports on the skills gap published by WFD companies and academic-oriented organizations. Here we take a look inside some of these articles and reports.
In Part I of our skills gap series, we pointed to a report by Emsi and a report by Degreed, both top-notch providers of labor market data. To recap briefly, both reported that there’s a growing need for employees to enhance their communication and basic digital literacy skills, along with a larger need for job candidates to fill skill-gaps on different levels in the wide and vast technical arena, where the most lucrative and most in-demand jobs exist.
In-Demand Tech Skills
In “Skills of Mass Disruption,” (a report published in December 2020) Burning Glass Technologies, another top-notch labor analytics software company, analyzed more than 17,000 in-demand, unique skills from its large database of job listings. From more than 1.7 million job posts, they came up with ten disruptive tech skill clusters representative of employer job postings between December 2019 and November 2020. These disruptive tech skill clusters were projected to grow between 17% and 135% over the next five years, with Quantum Computing and Connected Technologies projected to grow the fastest. The other eight, in no particular order:
  • Software Development Methodologies
  • AI and Machine Learning
  • Cloud Technologies
  • Fintech
  • IT Automation
  • Natural Language Processing
  • Parallel Computing
  • Proactive Security
Burning Glass added that – no surprise – unicorn employers “are 33% more likely to request disruptive tech skills than legacy firms in the Fortune 100.” IT Automation and AI Machine Learning demand the highest salary premiums and are most dispersed across the professional services sectors, opposed to being concentrated in one industry, as is Quantum Computing.
Upskilling and Reskilling
In general, companies prefer to upskill their employees’ disruptive tech skills instead of relying on new hires. 
In an article published by the World Economic Forum (WEF) in October 2020, Senior Writer, Formative Content, Kate Whiting wrote that “50% of all employees will need reskilling by 2025, as adoption of technology increases.” Whiting briefly summarized WEF’s Future of Jobs Report 2020 findings, noting, for example, that “40% of workers will require reskilling of six months or less, but that number is higher for those in the consumer industry and in the health and healthcare industry.”
Some of the report’s key findings predicted to take shape more substantially by 2025 include:
  • Businesses will accelerate and prioritize their interest in cloud computing, big data, e-commerce, encryption, robotics, and AI.
  • Due to technology integration, 43% of businesses will slash their workforce, 34% will do the opposite and increase their workforce, and 41% will expand specialized contractual arrangements. 
  • Machines and algorithms will displace 85 million jobs, yet create 97 million new jobs.
  • It’s expected that 44% of the workforce will operate remotely.
  • Digital tools that help create a sense of community, connection, and well-being will become more prevalent.
  • The impact of COVID-19 and its economic contraction will continue to deepen Issues related to inequality.
  • Online education will continue to rise, with significant increases in employer- and government-sponsored online education opportunities.
  • Online courses that emphasize skills in data analysis, computer science, and information technology will continue to grow for the unemployed. 
  • As the labor market constrains, opportunities to reskill and upskill will become more compressed and shorter.
  • Employers will offer reskilling and upskilling opportunities to 70% of their employees, but only 42% will take advantage of such opportunities.
  • Companies will invest in better human and social capital metrics in the environmental, social and governance (ESG) arenas.
  • The public sector will incentivize jobs of the future and provide stronger safety nets for displaced workers, as well as improve education and training systems.
One Basic Way for Higher Ed to Become Better at Meeting Industry Needs
Emsi’s 43-page ebook, titled “Skills Required: How higher ed can meet the needs of learners and employers in a skill-based economy,” stipulates how 62% of Americans “strongly prefer nondegree programs and skills training over degree programs.”
Hence, employers are increasingly providing their own skills-based educational pathways and are not placing as much emphasis on their employees earning traditional degrees. Additionally, overall skepticism in relation to the ROI of higher education is increasing, as evidenced in current enrollment drops of first-time students currently in the 13% range. At the same time, there has been a “soaring enrollment of education providers (traditional and otherwise) that offer online, short-term credentials closely aligned to in-demand skills and industry needs,” Emsi claims.
Sensible advice for colleges and universities is provided throughout the ebook, including some practical advice outlined in chapter 4, titled “Skills AND Degrees: Adapting Degrees for a Skill-based Economy.” Here Emsi suggests that colleges “unbundle degrees into skill-based, stackable credentials,” or what they refer to as a “skillified degree plan.” For some students, a short-term stackable credential may be enough, while for other students it could be the beginning of a longer educational pathway. Overall, “colleges and universities that can offer students work-relevant degrees delivered via flexible, stackable pathways have the potential to not only help working (or out-of-work) adults in the short-term, but to continue offering on-ramps to higher leaning as individuals advance through their lives and careers,” Emsi writes. 
It needs to be noted, however, that stackable credentialing is not a new idea, and, in my opinion, calling them skillified degree plans is just another way of applying a creative term (called everything from micro credentials, certificates, digital badges, alternative, etc.) to what has been an ongoing development in higher education that has encouraged increased portability and transferability of credits (albeit rather unsuccessfully) in the form of stackable credentials since, at least in my estimation, around 2008-09. For a highly interesting and informative take on the growth and development of short-term credentials, see Part I and Part II of “Evolving Our Credentialing Ecosystem for the Future of Work,” published by The EvoLLLution.*
On Digital Skills
For another important vein within the purview of the skills-gap and upskilling, see an August 2019 15-page report by The Urban Institute, titled “Foundational Digital Skills for Career Progress.” This report is a great compliment to the over-abundance of literature focused primarily on technical skills. In this context, foundational digital skills are defined as nonspecialized and “may be important for carrying out a job but not the job’s main substance.” They “exist on a continuum from basic to advanced,” with basic being oriented toward computer literacy, along with understanding how to write an email, or making a resume, and conducting basic online searches. Advanced is considered as having digital literacy skills, which in this context means capable of retrieving information from databases, and “being able to combine base knowledge and problem solving to approach new platforms and uses.”
The Urban Institute observed that digital skills continue to grow in-demand just about everywhere. Even though their stats on this report refer back to Department of Education figures from 2011-12, I think it’s safe to assume that they are still highly relevant today. In general, teachers; registered nurses; human resource specialists; secretaries; health aids; and working-class jobs, such as welders and retail clerks, that require less than a four-year degree – all necessitate digital skills. The report also noted that “people lacking basic digital skills are disproportionally older, less educated, immigrants, or workers of color.”
Colleges and universities may want to boost their continuing education programs by offering relatively low-cost courses that at various levels teach foundational digital skills geared toward learners in their communities who need them to become more feasible job candidates.
Editor’s Note: We are planning to further develop syntheses on the skills gap in future issues, along with the WFD literature on apprenticeships and internships, education and career portals, non-Academy and for-profit college competitors, competency-based programs, labor stats, and much more. Please share this eNewsletter with your friends and/or point them to our constantly evolving website at wfmonitor.com.
And if you have any suggestions concerning what you’d like to see in future issues, please contact me anytime through our contact page or email me directory at glorenzo@wfmonitor.comOur goal is to help educators get a keen understanding of how labor markets are developing and how colleges and universities can better address students’ education needs and desires in rapidly changing teaching and learning environments. We do that by synthesizing the most erudite literature published by numerous organizations, businesses, and workforce development professionals. 
Thanks for stopping by,
George 
* In the next issue of Workforce Monitor, we will cover stackable credentials in more detail.  

Related links:
Workforce Monitor
A Review of Savvy Literature on the Skills Gap, Part 1 - Issue #2 | Revue
Skills of Mass Disruption
The Future of Jobs Report 2020 | World Economic Forum
Skills Required - Emsi
Foundational Digital Skills for Career Progress | Urban Institute
Evolving Our Credentialing Ecosystem for the Future of Work (Part 1) - The EvoLLLution
Evolving Our Credentialing Ecosystems for the Future of Work (Part 2) - The EvoLLLution
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Workforce Monitor

Workforce Monitor is published with the Program on Skills, Credentials & Workforce Policy at George Washington University. We comb through all the erudite literature on Workforce Development issues, trends, and strategies as they relate to the world of education. We then synthesize our favorite research into concise summaries and feature articles, covering this broad landscape in a way that can save you time.

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