An 'experience gap' could be a larger problem than the 'skills gap'

Encourages colleges to offer more experiential learning

Colleges and universities must address the "experience gap" facing students or for-profits will step in, writes one venture expert in the Washington Post's "Grade Point" blog.

The unemployment rate for those with a bachelor's degree is just 2.8%, but 44% of college graduates still say they are underemployed, writes Nick Ducoff, VP for new ventures at Northeastern University Global Network, in an op-ed.

Employers have long complained of a "skills gap" among recent graduates. However, Ducoff argues, broad underemployment actually suggests a different problem: an experience gap.

Company expectations

Employers are increasingly looking at what candidates have done—not what they studied, says Rob Biederman, CEO of HourlyNerd, a consulting company that connects business and job candidates.

"When we seek to hire candidates we spend 95% of the interview on work experience—even if project-based or field studies—and less than 5% on academics," says Biederman.

According to Northeastern University's Innovation Imperative Series survey, 93% of C-suite executives believe colleges should increase experiential learning opportunities.

Improving access

There are 21 million college students but just 2 million internship positions, says Ducoff, which means millions of students lose the opportunity to apply skills learned in class to real work problems while in school. 

Helping arts students get creative with career prep

Data from the National Association of Colleges and Employers show that 63% of paid interns receive at minimum one job offer after graduation. And overall, graduates have a 70% chance of being offered a spot at the company where they interned.

"The solution thus becomes one about improving access to experience as much as it is about improving access to education, and the key is to give students project-based work or field studies earlier in their career," writes Ducoff.

Parents agree—a recent survey from Noodle found that out of 985 parents of high school- or college-aged students, 73% said the second most important factor in choosing a college is the "acquisition of real-world marketable skills." Only a "safe environment" was more important to them.

For-profits filling the gap

Bootcamps are stepping in, equipping students with in-demand skills and pairing them with companies to work on real projects. Students pay $10,267—on top of tuition—to learn skills employers want, according to the 2014 Programming Bootcamp Graduate survey.

But Ducoff argues, "Getting a job shouldn't start after a student graduates—it should be a multi-step process baked into the curriculum" (Ducoff/Svrluga, "Grade Point," Washington Post, 3/31).

The takeaway: One university VP argues that colleges need to provide more applied learning opportunities in order to close the "experience gap" and prepare students for their jobs after graduation.

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