The U.S. educational system and job market have a chicken-and-egg relationship: Do changes in the needs of the labor market determine the skills that schools teach? Or, do the ways students are educated force employers to adapt to the types of employees available to them?
The reality is that the answer contains a little bit of both. That's why it’s critical that employers understand how educational trends will affect whom and how they hire in the future.
Here are three ways in which education is being transformed, and what those changes mean for employers and the jobs of the future:
1. An increased focus on STEM education
Currently, an increasingly common refrain is that there are not enough students in America choosing STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) careers. In 2014, Change the Equation and Business Roundtable surveyed more than 120 CEOs about the STEM skills gap in the United States.
Of the responding CEOs, 97 percent said their company was facing some sort of problem caused by a skills shortage.
To help address this problem, the President’s National Science and Technology Committee, in 2013, presented its five-year plan to improve STEM education across the nation. The plan was one of a range of pro-STEM initiatives aimed at promoting interest in these industries among students of all ages and creating employees for tomorrow’s workforce.
What this means for employers: If all goes well, employers can expect more employees with those high-level STEM skills they need to stay competitive. This is obviously a positive trend for employers, but don’t expect the short supply of candidates with needed STEM skills to be rectified overnight.
Something else to consider is that, in a 2015 Gallup survey of more than 13,000 adult employees, 60 percent of employees surveyed said that the opportunity to utilize their core competency -- or do what they do best -- was a critical factor influencing their decision to take a new job.
If employers want to attract and keep top talent, they need to ensure that these jobs enable employees to use and grow their skills. With better STEM employees in the pipeline, companies will need to work to continually challenge and support their best employees; otherwise that talent won’t stick around for long.
2. Easier access to quality education and information
Thanks to the explosion of massive open online courses, or MOOCs, business apps and (if we’re being honest) Wikipedia entries in recent years, everyone has better access to information that will make them more successful in the workplace. With more top universities offering free online courses, the quality of online education is improving and making it easier for anyone to learn marketable skills.
On top of that, a few innovative companies are leveraging the latest smartphone-app technology to help employees of all educational backgrounds make better choices about their career paths. For example, my own career exploration startup, PathSource, recently partnered with GED Testing Service to offer GED credential holders the resources they need to focus on achieving their career goals.
With access to more -- and higher quality -- education via technology, the future workforce will become more knowledgeable about and better prepared for the career options available to them.
What this means for employers: Employers will be well served by rethinking the value of unconventional education. Talent pools can increase significantly if recruiters and employers make an effort to reach out to candidates who haven’t gone down the traditional four-year college degree job path.
Training new and current employees will also be easier than ever. By making their workforce aware of the free online education options available, interested employers can continue to develop their employees' skills sets without seeing those workers take on the temporal and financial stress of going back to school.
3. More college students are participating in internships.
In a survey, by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), targeting almost 40,000 college graduates from the Class of 2015, 65 percent of those grads reported participating in an internship/co-op position while in school. This was the highest percentage recorded since the survey began in 2007.
The trend is unsurprising, though, given the preferential hiring treatment employers give to graduates with internship experience. In a 2015 Association of American Colleges & Universities survey of 400 employers, 94 percent of respondents said they’d be more likely to consider a graduate for a job if they had participated in an internship.
What this means for employers: If employers prefer employees with internship experience, companies will benefit from offering more quality internships. The better a company’s internship program is, the more competitive it will be in attracting talented students -- and the more valuable it will be in giving hiring managers a first look at potential future hires.
By creating effective internship programs, employers can offer students worthwhile training and build a relationship that could transition to full-time employment after graduation. In this way, employers can develop a reliable and loyal talent pipeline.
The upshot here is that, just as the job market is always changing, so is the education system. In order to find and develop employees for future jobs, employers need to adapt to the rapidly changing role that education is playing in transforming America’s workforce.
What other educational reforms will affect how and who employers hire for the jobs of the future?