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June 18, 2015

Bridging The Gap Between Education and the Future Workforce

university lecture hall

This post originally appeared in TechCrunch.

The school year has come to an end. For newly minted college graduates it can be a tumultuous time filled with anticipation, anxiety, happiness and disappointment. Although some college graduates will find their first, degree-related job right out of college, it’s not the case for most.

The prospect for adequate employment has been dismal for millennials as a whole — and often means going back to their parents’ home to embark on a multi-month job search that often ends in underemployment. The reason, as 73 percent of hiring managers point out, is that colleges are not completely preparing students for the working world and there is nothing filling the teaching gap.

The underemployment rate has improved from 46 percent to 44.6 percent in the last year, but we must keep in mind that the rate is still quite high compared to historical numbers. It was only at 38 percent in 2000 and held a 41 percent average before the recession. Yes, a healthier market has created more opportunity, but it is only making a small dent in the underemployment increase that has occurred not only because of a weaker economy, but also because of the technologically fostered change in the nature of jobs today.

In fact, a recent study found that the concern for employment is so ubiquitous for the millennial demographic that it has become the most important presidential campaign issue for the group. It’s a rising concern, as the same study found that more millennials than ever plan to vote in next year’s election, as well as it being the first time the entire millennial population will be voting as part of the working-age group. So what’s the root of this problem? How will it be addressed?

To get back to pre-recession levels, or better, we need to do more than just see what an improved market does. Instead, we must spur on progress through new programs and restructured educational infrastructures — or never catch up. Traditional education can no longer keep up; it’s time we take a new approach in preparing the future workforce.

The Problem: A College Education Doesn’t Necessarily Prepare for a Job

Some, like Peter Thiel, have come out with bold proclamations saying that people need to forget about college. That they’re be better off taking independent courses online, doing boot camps and taking a hands-on approach to gain the relevant skills needed for their desired roles. While I don’t agree completely — as college is invaluable for gaining life experience, finding a good network and becoming critically apt at various tasks — he’s partially right.

Universities continue to dwell on the theoretical in favor of the practical, and it doesn’t bode well in results-driven industries. According to research from Accenture, eight out of 10 recent graduates are optimistic about future career-oriented employment, while nearly half (49 percent) of their 2013 and 2014 predecessors report being underemployed.

Students and colleges think they are doing enough, but the numbers tell a different story. It’s a major problem for businesses that want to hire employees that can hit the ground running, especially considering the amount of competition many companies face today.

But employers are also partially at fault. Many companies have opted out of providing comprehensive training programs — especially in the startup environment where funds are a hot commodity. But it can be a pitfall, considering that only 15 percent of recent graduates — who are often underprepared as noted by employers — would opt for a large company instead of small one. This, coupled with universities’ inability to fully prepare work-force candidates, equals a reduced pool of adequate new hire contenders. In other words, the problem does not rest on colleges alone.

The truth is that rapid changes have made it difficult for educational institutions to adapt and, in turn, have created a disconnect between higher education and the workforce while employers fail to step in. This is happening now, especially in the non-STEM-related majors (science, technology, engineering and math).

For example, you may be going to one of the best higher education institutions in the country, but a degree in marketing or communications won’t pay off by the time you enter the workforce. Most top universities don’t offer Facebook or Google-search marketing courses that matter for today’s market; instead, they opt for commercial creation or branding strategies that no longer widely apply. Congruently, most employers also fail to deliver on the training.

Despite the apparent problem, eliminating the entire college experience would be a huge detriment to job seekers, affecting everything from their future professional networks to their intercommunication and comprehension skills. Boot camps and the like are great in their own right, but cannot deliver the sense of community or “real-world” training one gets from being on their own for the first time.

The solution is not in cutting out the college experience but complementing it. This means supplementing the university experience and bolstering in-class experiences with third-party courses that are relevant to students’ long-term career goals. For example, practical courses on Facebook marketing, Twitter marketing, and Google marketing already exist.

The Solution: Bolster Higher Education with Practical Supplemental Training

I’m imagining a new brand of schooling model that complements traditional structures with on-demand learning based on current needs or future aspirations. This would also continue beyond the university environment and into a lifetime of learning for all professionals.

LinkedIn is already jumping on the idea with the acquisition of It is merging a giant networking and recruiting platform with a service that can seamlessly help users learn the skills they need for an appealing job posting.

Udemy, which announced it has closed a $65 million Series D financing round, offers courses in the same vein, and aims to provide long-term learning opportunities for anyone with the appetite. Notably, Udemy’s course, “The Complete Apple Watch Developer Course – Build 14 Apps,” which opened in late February in anticipation of the Apple Watch’s release in April, was extremely successful for both the instructor and the students. It exemplified the ability for such courses to quickly address an entirely new subject with speed and efficiency.

And it’s becoming more important than ever, as companies like Facebook, Morgan Stanley and Twitter use services like HackerRank or Gradberry to hire and place developers based on their demonstrated ability. It’s no longer about a brand name university or resume, but about results and competency.

In short, new players like Udemy, and HackerRank among others are helping overcome both the current millennial employment hurdle and nationwide unemployment problem. Monolithic educational structures are losing stride with the new work environment, which often lacks the resources to ramp up new employees, and everyone is paying the price.

It’s time we revamp the way we teach and learn and adopt a new system that takes personal needs and sudden developments into account. And this is not only for those in college; anyone can and should apply to continue a life-long journey of learning based on need and curiosity.