Colleges work to figure out what, exactly, employers want

'The problem right now in the business community is these employers don't speak with one voice'

Colleges and universities are analyzing job posting data to better prepare their students for the workforce, Anna Louie Sussman and Melissa Korn report for the Wall Street Journal.

An "information gap" exists between how employers label their open positions and the skills needed to fill them, contributing to the so-called skills gap that recently came close to a historic high at 5.5 million job vacancies.

Who is responsible for closing the 'skills gap'?

"If I could wave a magic wand, what I'd like is to have clear definitions…from the company saying, 'Here's what we want a machinist to do, and if they can do these and these things, we'll hire them,'" says Macomb Community College President Jim Jacobs. "That doesn't exist."

An analysis of thousands of local job postings by Macomb's engineering dean revealed that despite disparate job titles, many employers are looking for the same sets of skills.

"The problem right now in the business community is these employers don't speak with one voice," says Peter Cappelli, director of University of Pennsylvania's Wharton Center for Human Resources.

The problem exists mostly in the United States, where the education system and employers often don't work together to develop training programs.

To determine exactly what employers are looking for, more and more schools are turning to companies such as Burning Glass Technologies, LinkedIn, and CareerBuilder, which analyze job postings and determine skill demand.

For example, Northeastern University dug into data and found that in the San Francisco Bay Area, 16,000 job openings specified a need for data analytics skills. Then, in January, the institution launched a two-month boot camp focused on these skills for people who do not want to complete an entire computer science master's degree.

However, even when institutions choose a curriculum area to focus on, bureaucratic red tape can slow down the implementation process so much that by the time the new program launches—it's obsolete. This is particularly true when public funding is involved, says Alicia Modestino, a Northeastern economist (Sussman/Korn, Wall Street Journal, 4/3).

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