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Mutual Benefit: Universities as Skill Brokers

clock iconCreated At:19 July, 2023
write iconCreated By:Reem Mohamed

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A new report suggests that universities should aspire to become “skill brokers”. This is largely due to the fact that universities are “uniquely placed” to address the gaps in the workforce effectively. 

As per the paper from Nous Group, universities can uphold their mission of allowing strong graduate outcomes by developing the knowledge workers that the industry requires. 

According to a connector report that was produced in collaboration with Studyportals and Lightcast, institutions are urged by the universities to alleviate skills shortages in the countries of Australia, Canada, the UK, and the US by focusing on the skills “mismatch”.

As employers struggle to find workers with relevant skills, the mismatch has been exacerbated by the following: tech-based disruption, demographic shifts, the pandemic, and geopolitical tensions. This is all according to the report and how the data can help direct institutions to make decisions. 

“Workforce gaps are having wide-ranging impacts on industries across the globe and threatening the sustainability of many businesses and organisations,” Peter Wiseman, Nous Group principal and author of the paper, said.

He maintained that local labour markets alone can’t satisfy workforce demand and challenges and added that “attracting international talent is essential”.

“Universities have an important role to play when demand from employers for skills is not aligned with study interest areas identified by prospective students,” he stated.

This research relies on the global view of study demand from Studyportals as well as the market insights from Lightcast’s labour.

Wiseman noted that the demand for STEM education and training by both employers and students does not necessarily mean that universities will be moving away from traditional liberal arts programmes. 

“There is going to be a continuing need for liberal arts because critical thinking is still a fundamental skill,” he said.

“Artificial intelligence has interesting intersections with the liberal arts, for example, in ethics or how AI might be used in public policy, and how you build an appropriate knowledge of that into liberal arts education.”

The paper also added that employers are interested in collaborating with universities on work-integrated learning as well as internships that can respond quickly to the needs of the workforce, thus offering employment guarantees that are subject to degree completion and employer-funded scholarships.

By providing certainty, experience, and employment, these types of provisions should come off as attractive to students. This is also according to the paper. “We’ve shown in the paper changes in industry demand for particular skills or people with particular qualifications, but the great thing about the Lightcast data is you can actually narrow that down very, very specifically,” Wiseman also said.

Wiseman also stated that universities should be working with data that helps them understand which employers should be approached and engaged with when it comes to topics surrounding work-integrated learning and paid internships.

The report also focuses on ROI and marketing to students who are “interested in studying in areas of greatest need”. The data provided by international education specialists can “drill down” to a city level to show which investment sector is most likely to succeed, despite marketing and promotional activities being “expensive and scattershot”.

“The value for universities here is to drill down in great detail,” Wiseman continued.

“You can actually look at what employers are looking for and where there is interest in studying in those particular locations. The university itself can think about where they have something distinctive that they can offer employers and students. Essentially, this methodology allows each university to carve out distinctive opportunities.” 

Over the last two decades, universities have promoted business degrees that have “become very generic”, he went on. “Instead we can actually think about chemical engineering or pharmacy or nursing or something else that the university is particularly good at and deliver it in a way that’s going to be really attractive to employers and students,” he added.

Furthermore, Mutual benefits can be gained for students, employers, and institutions through paid internships, work-integrated learning, and a guarantee of employment for top students. 

“That provides students with some forward vision about the future; it helps [universities] with the retention of students, and employers [benefit as] they’ve got some real workforce challenges. [There is also an opportunity] to tap into that capability while people are still studying but also at the end of people's degrees,” Wiseman added.

This data can be used to give insight into which industries are expected to be the most impacted by shifting workforce needs, despite the fact that the report does not forecast the future. 

“That can give a sense of which industry partners might be more at risk of change and therefore will need more support. There are wonderful opportunities for universities to help in that space. It’s really golden,” he said. He also noted that the Studyportals data can also help predict enrollments 12–18 months in advance.


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