According to the latest report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of open jobs in the United States continues to exceed the number of job seekers. In Canada, although the latest jobs data shows an increasing number of Canadians looking for work, job vacancies remain high as employers continue to complain that job seekers don’t have the skills they require.
Employers lament the fact that schools are not preparing job seekers with the skills they need to succeed in the workplace. Notably, these are not just technical skills. There is also a persistent “soft skills” gap.
While many of the most glaring issues arise in high school, the post-secondary education system is falling short too. In a survey of 879 college-educated job seekers and business decision makers, 57% said that they are not working in a profession that “aligns” with their education. The survey was conducted in July 2019 through the Express Refresh Leadership and Job Journey blogs.
Based on input from Express franchise owners, local workforce experts and surveys, Express developed 10 recommendations for educators:
1. Focus on oral and written communication “soft skills.”
One of the most common methods of communication in today’s hiring process is email, and Jan Riggins, general manager of two Forth Worth, Texas, Express franchise locations, said she is constantly shocked at applicants’ inability to communicate effectively in writing.
“This mode of communication is vital to so many parts of the workforce, yet I see a lack of email etiquette and basic grammar and spelling skills leading to many misunderstandings and misinterpretations,” she said.
Other “soft skills” also need to be taught, such as making eye contact, refraining from looking at a cell phone white talking to others and the ability to communicate and compose thoughtful answers to questions.
“Regardless of the job field or the position, strong oral and written communication skills will help any student land a job and succeed,” said Jessica Culo, an Express franchise owner in Edmonton, Alberta. “Ask any employer their top three criteria for a star candidate, and communication skills will always be on the list.”
2. Provide training for resume writing, interview etiquette and other workforce skills.
Students could also greatly benefit from schools that offer a class on the basics of how to find a job, said Daniel Morgan, Express franchise owner, Birmingham, Alabama.
“Of the last eight interviews I have done, only one person has followed up with an email or phone call to thank me or express interest in the job,” he said. “I know they are interested because they tell us a friend in the office referred them, but they have never been taught basic interview skills.”
Once again, these candidates’ lack of soft skills often mean they are passed over for a position they are qualified for on paper, but still have work to do on their presentation in the hiring process.
3. Set realistic expectations for first jobs after graduation.
Schools often give the impression that when you graduate, you will be entering into a managerial or high-level role upon entrance into the workforce, according to Todd Isaacson, Express franchise owner, Longmont, Colorado.
“School is important for that and will definitely help you gain an understanding of some of the concepts needed, but companies require experience for those more advanced positions,” he said.
Educators could better prepare their students by encouraging them to be ambitious in their career dreams but prepare them for the time needed to pay their dues and to gain valuable experience.
4. Help students learn to “disconnect” from electronic devices.
While younger generations can often multi-task, hiring managers are actually looking for the person who can best focus on the situation at hand, starting with the interview.
“Schools fail to teach the importance of being engaged, not just present, in the job—no cell phones, texting, etc.,” Isaacson added.
James Fong, Executive Director of Rogue Workforce Partnership, community partner of Medford, Oregon, Express franchise, agrees that technology is important, but it shouldn’t take the place of traditional interaction.
“Smartphone and social media addiction issues are supplanting in-person human connection skills,” he said.
5. Teach basic personal finance.
To go along with teaching students realistic expectations about first jobs, schools need to prepare students for the realities of cost of living expenses and managing unexpected expenses.
“I often feel that a lack of ‘life skills’ leads to many other issues preventing workers from being successful in their careers and in life,” Riggins said. “Understanding budgeting, planning, car maintenance, health insurance, taxes, etc., can help in so many ways, including how to successfully manage and keep a job.”
6. Develop proficiency in basic business economics.
Employees don’t necessarily need to know all the nitty gritty details of how their employer runs a company, but they do need to know what it takes for raises to happen and how businesses make money. Workers need to know where their contributions fit into the overall vision and operation of the company and how their actions directly affect the bottom line.
“Schools don’t teach students how companies need to make money in order to pay their workers more money,” Morgan said. “Basic economic skills are lacking.”
7. Promote collaboration and problem solving through real-world applications.
Just as important as knowing their contributions are valued at businesses, however, is teaching students that companies thrive on collaborative efforts. And that teamwork is something Jill Loveless, Express franchise owner in Tigard, Oregon, notices workers are often missing.
“Many have a solid customer service disposition, but finding someone who can problem solve and troubleshoot different situations with various people and departments can be difficult,” she said.
8. Promote technical education offerings.
Four-year colleges aren’t the only avenue to career success, and with a growing shortage of skilled workers, schools can better educate students on the benefits of attending a career and technical education institute instead.
“We need more of a balance in education to match learning to actual career options,” said Janis Petrini, Express franchise owner, Grand Rapids, Michigan. “This means more skilled trades and technical programs to give students the actual skills they will need for the jobs of the future.”
“University isn’t for everyone, and there should not be a stigma around those who choose to pursue the skilled trades,” said Bruce Hein, an Express franchise owner in Sarnia, Ontario. “We regularly see tradespeople and college graduates earning significantly more than their university-educated peers. It’s important that schools teach students that these career options are equally valued and that graduates can make a good living pursuing something other than a university education.”
9. Forge partnerships with local businesses.
Ultimately, educators can’t know what workforce qualities graduates are lacking unless business owners tell them.
“We need more collaboration between local employers and schools so that the schools actually know what the needs are after school,” Petrini said. “Many educators really don’t have any idea what employers actually want or what skills are needed. We have to educate the educators.”
In Medford, Oregon, the local Express franchise is seeing the payoffs of establishing a strong line of communication with schools.
“Our workforce partnership group in southern Oregon has the most collaborative board in existence and the work we are doing is far ahead of many,” said Nikki Jones, Express franchise owner in Medford, Oregon. “Identifying key components of education has been one of our strategic objectives for many years. In the last couple of years, we have made great strides in closing this gap.”
10. Make lifelong learning an expectation.
It’s rare for graduates to land their dream job at the top of the career ladder immediately upon graduation. They should understand that constantly learning new skills and enlisting the help of a mentor will get them there a lot faster.
“Students should not get discouraged if after graduation, they find they still need to gain some more experience,” Isaacson said. “It is not that companies don’t want their skills and ideas; it is that they need more real-world situations before they are truly ready for some of those higher-level roles.”
Express is proud to support educators who have their work cut out for them preparing the future workforce, but they aren’t alone in carrying the burden, said Express CEO Bill Stoller.
“Across North America, we’re seeing more businesses invest in internal training programs and proactively reaching out to schools. We’re eager to help,” Stoller said. “Still, the skills gap—which involves both ‘hard skills’ and ‘soft skills’—is a call to action for all of us. If we fail to act, and if schools fail to adapt, we will leave a whole generation ill-prepared to reach their full potential.”
To help educators prepare young adults for the workforce, Express also presents, Job Genius, a free instructional video series on everything from resume building and interview techniques to career pathing and tips for money management. Visit ExpressPros.com/JobGenius for more information.