Employers say the skills gap is the widest it's been in a decade

The skills gap is the widest it's been in a decade, according to a study by The Manpower Group, John Hanc reports for the New York Times.

The Manpower Group surveyed 42,000 employers last year, and 40% of respondents said it was difficult to fill roles—the highest number since 2007. Hanc rounds up some of the efforts colleges are making to prepare their students to fill the skills gap.

Case Western Reserve University created a minor in applied data science. Like other minors at Case Western, the minor requires only around 20 credits to obtain, writes Hanc. The ability to analyze data and statistics is a skill that employers say the need, but are having a hard time finding.

But the skills gap does not just exist for computer-based skills. Over half of the 800 equipment manufacturers and distributors surveyed by the Association Equipment Distributors in 2016 said that they've had a hard time meeting customer demand because they can't find skilled technicians to hire, writes Hanc.

Farmingdale State College started a natural gas technician program. They partnered with National Grid, an energy company, to ensure the certificate's graduates get both a curriculum enriched with exactly what they need to know for the field and also get jobs in it, writes Hanc.

"Every one of our first 12 graduates got a job with National Grid," says Marjaneh Issapour, a professor of electrical and computer tech at Farmingdale.

Industry partnerships like this one are the "formula for success," according to Michael Cartney, president of the Lake Area Technical Institute (LATI). Nearly 100% of LATI students are either employed or continuing their education after graduation, and their salaries are higher than average workers in the area after five years.

Because of its success in this area and other student outcomes, LATI won the Aspen Institute's 2017 Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence. President Obama also praised the school in his commencement address there in 2015. 

Certifications like the one at Farmingdale are considered the first step in a series of credentials. This makes them "stackable", a method that allow students to take smaller steps toward entering the workforce and demonstrate the skills they've learned along the way.

A degree program in data analytics at Miami Dade College works the same way, writes Hanc. Students in the program start out with a certificate in business intelligence, then obtain an associate degree in the same topic, and finish with a bachelor's degree in data analytics.

"This provides flexibility for those students who might need to be in the work force while in school," says Karen Elzey, vice president of the Business-Higher Education Forum, which partnered with Miami Dade College to get the program up and running (Hanc, New York Times, 6/7).

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