Bridging the college degree “skills gap”

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It’s interesting to discover that, after all the fuss about how obtaining a college degree can boost a person’s lifetime earning potential, some say that a college education in fact doesn’t prepare students very well for the for the workforce.

On the face of it, such a finding seems to offer both an opportunity and a challenge to the trucking industry. On the one hand, if a college degree is increasingly out of synch with the skills desired by the business world, that situation could generate more opportunities to recruit younger folks into the truck driving career path.

On the other hand, though, trucking needs college graduates to fulfill any number of roles – just like any business. And if a college education isn’t supplying the necessary skills anymore, that could spell potential trouble down the road – especially when it comes to information technology needs.

Those are just some of the thoughts that came to my mind after perusing a survey conducted this past April by Harris interactive on behalf of the University of Phoenix (one that is all the more worrisome when laid alongside one that delved into the “IT degree drop-off” in an earlier post.)

This survey – conducted online April 18 thru 26 among 1,616 U.S. adults age 18 or older who are full-time, part-time, or self-employed – found that that only a quarter (25%) of working adults say college education today effectively prepares students for employment in the workforce, with only 10% saying it prepares students very effectively.

On top of that, more than one-in-five (22%) workers believe that college education does not effectively prepare students for employment – a statistic that worries Sam Sanders, college chair for the University of Phoenix's school of business and 20-year veteran human resources executive.

“The survey suggests the need for higher education to adapt to the needs of the market and prepare students for specific jobs and careers,” he explained. “There is significant progress being made in America to tie curriculum to careers earlier in a student’s education, but there is still a lot of work to be done to prepare college graduates for specific careers and grow a more competitive workforce.”

Here are some other findings of note about this growing “skills gap” between college degrees and job needs:

  • Only slightly more than one-third (35%) of working adults with a bachelor’s degree or higher level of education consider all or most of what they learned in college to be applicable to their current jobs.
  • Only 7% believe all of what they learned in college is applicable.
  • More than one-in-ten (13%) feel that none of what they learned is applicable.
  • Only 51% say some of what they learned is applicable.

Here’s something else: Nearly three-quarters (74%) of the working adults polled by Harris identified regrets they have regarding their education, with the top one being that they didn’t pursue more education (48%). That’s strange, though, since many of them noted that not much of what they learned in college could be applied to their current jobs.

More from the “regret” front: some 58% of those working adults polled without bachelor’s degrees regret that they didn’t pursue more education, which is significantly greater than those with bachelor’s degrees (32%).

Other regrets include: not learning as much because they didn’t apply themselves (21%), not focusing enough on academics (19%), selecting the wrong major (15%), not pursuing internships or relevant part-/full-time jobs while receiving their education (11%) and not applying the information learned to real-life scenarios (6%).

So what takeaways are presented here for trucking? Well, first and foremost, I think it shows that the industry needs to start actively focusing on the high school level, even though the minimum age requirement for a commercial driver’s license (CDL) holder is 21. That’s simply because putting the transportation “bug” in the ear of high school might be a good way to move them into college degree paths that could serve trucking down the road.

That’s just one idea, of course. But with a growing disconnect between college degrees and workforce needs, businesses of all stripes – trucking included – will need to step into the process if only to help provide better advice as to what higher educational path younger generations should follow. 

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Trucks at Work: Sean Kilcarr comments on trends affecting the many different strata of the trucking industry.

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