'Soft skills gap' separates new grads and businesses, report finds
New graduates in Edmonton might look good on paper, but businesses say they are having trouble finding applicants with the people skills that companies need, according to a new report from the Canada West Foundation.
The report, titled “Talent is not enough: closing the skills gap," looked at how the city’s post-secondary schools are doing at filling the demands of the business world, drawing conclusions it says applies to both Alberta and the rest of the country.
“Employers are asking an awful lot of post-secondary institutions,” said Janet Lane, director of the foundation’s Human Capital Policy Centre.
Lane said the report found that businesses are demanding more specialized skill from new employees. And while new grads in the province are strong in technical terms, they were lacking in the “soft skills” that have become a bigger part of the working world.
“They don’t have the communication skills, the decision making, the critical thinking, the ability to work in teams,” she said.
The report: 6 recommendations
The report, Talent is not enough: closing the skills gap, identified 6 "pathways" that institutions, businesses and governments should consider to better train workers in soft skills. They are:
1. "Effective response to labour market information and analysis"
2. "Commitment to essential skills development"
3. "Enhancement and expansion of trades- and-careers-based education programs"
4. "Increased exposure to industry and access to workplace experiences"
5. "Responsive post-secondary education"
6. "Investment in employee learning and development opportunities"
Lane says technical schools and universities have to look not only at what they teach, but how they teach it. More opportunity for hands-on work, with more apprenticeships and co-ops, are needed to give new grads better skills working with people.
She says some schools around Edmonton have been responsive to the concerns of industry and have had success with apprenticeship programs that have students working in their field while studying,
But the change isn’t always being made fast enough.
“They need to be thinking in ways of ‘how can we quickly do something?’”
The report found that workplaces also bear some responsibility in the skills gap. Lane says that while businesses have come to expect more from both current and new employees, there has been a 40 per cent drop in employee training over the past two decades.
“It’s ironic that as skill demands have gone up, employers have been less involved.”
Lane says that if employers have higher expectations, they must be willing to pay to develop employee skills, which in turn breeds loyalty.
The report argues that if the skills gap isn’t closed soon, the problem will get worse as more workers in the province retire.