Employers need to retrain 1.4 million workers. Colleges can help.

The skills gap is the widest it's been in a decade and more than half a million positions in technology sectors remain unfilled, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

But one-third of tech experts say they have "no confidence" that education and job training will evolve quickly enough to meet labor market demands, according to a report by Pew Research Center.

The widening skills gap and low U.S. unemployment rates mean slim pickings for employers in the labor market, reports Erin Winick for MIT Technology Review. As a result, employers are retraining their workforce to fill in talent gaps and retain employees, writes Winick.

"[Employers] can receive a return on their investment, because millennial workers demand investment," says Jaime Fall, the director of UpSkill America. "If they aren’t willing to help them to develop, they won’t stick around."

Large corporations like AT&T and Boeing have started to invest in upskilling programs, but "it's still just a drop in the bucket," argues Winick. Up to 1.4 million workers will need reskilling by 2026, but only 3% of organizations plan to dedicate significantly more resources to upskilling in the next three years.

Learn how community colleges can help close the skills gap

To help close these skill gaps, colleges and employers are partnering to retrain the current workforce and graduate students with in-demand skills. Online education will be particularly critical to address changing workforce demands, said higher ed leaders at Stanford University earlier this year. 

Brandman University, for example, is partnering with the Walt Disney Company to provide online higher ed opportunities to hourly workers. Disney employees are eligible to have 100% of their tuition covered and be compensated for course materials, textbooks, applications, and enrollment fees, Riia O'Donnell writes for HR Dive.

Similarly, Discover employees can now earn a bachelor's degree online for free at Wilmington University, the University of Florida, and Brandman. Discover offers employees tuition reimbursement for any degree program at an accredited institution and on-site MBA program at Lake Forest Graduate School of Management.

For higher ed leaders, employer partnerships offer an opportunity to get insight into the skills students need to land jobs after graduation. Employer partnerships can help career services offices stay up-to-date about the "last mile" skills that will make the critical difference between a new grad being qualified for a job—and merely almost qualified. For example, data from Burning Glass suggests that when liberal arts students add one word to their resumes—"digital"—they double the number of job openings they qualify for (Winick, MIT Technology Review, 11/7; O'Donnell, HR Dive, 10/9; Bolden-Barrett, HR Dive, 6/14).

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