31 Oct Bridging the Graduate Skills Gap in Australia
With the rise of the ‘global skills gap’ – a discrepancy between the skills expected of graduates by their employers, and those graduates’ capacity to demonstrate them in the workplace, it is imperative for institutions to address and reduce this gap to maximise graduate employability.
In our previous blog post, we provided a sneak peek of our research, and talked about the rapidly changing employment landscape, and what it means for graduates.
In this post, we will delve deeper into the research findings, and take a closer look at the relationship between graduate skills and employer expectations amid today’s uncertain landscape. To end off, we will provide recommendations on bridging the gap, and what providers of higher education can do to help address and reduce them.
The findings will utilise data collected from three surveys run in 2019:
- QSES 2019 International Student Survey
- QSES 2019 Domestic Student Survey
- QS 2019 Global Employer Survey
These surveys contain data that explores how employers assess the competency of their graduates across a range of key skills, as well as how important prospective (future) students perceive each of those graduate skills to be to those employers.
What skills do international students think employers want?
As the above chart shows, there are fairly wide gaps for most of the 15 skills. However, by far the biggest perception gap is for resilience, with only 43% of international students believing it to be important, while employers have ranked its importance at 97%.
What skills do domestic students think employers want?
Similar to prospective international students, there is a clear perception gap between how employers value skills, and how domestic prospective students value them. With each of the 15 skills, there is a gap of at least 16%.
Both domestic and international prospective students view problem-solving, communication, and teamwork to be the skills most widely valued by employers. However, the proportion of prospects who believe each to be important is still much lower than the proportion of employers who do.
One of the biggest perception gaps relates to data skills, with only 38% of domestic students believing it to be important, while employers have ranked its importance at 90%. It seems likely that the universal value of data literacy is not widely understood by prospective students.
Where are graduates of Australian universities falling short?
The biggest gaps between skill importance and skill satisfaction among employers are for
- Resilience (43% gap)
- Communication (31%)
- Problem Solving (30%)
While overall satisfaction, regardless of importance, is lowest for:
- Commercial Awareness (35% satisfied)
- Resilience (43%)
- Leadership (57%)
Of particular note is that the areas of biggest concern – the skills which are both very important and for which the gap is large, tend be ‘non-technical’ or ‘soft’ skills.
Overall, the skills gap exists across almost all the surveyed skills, with satisfaction exceeding importance for just three – creativity, negotiating and language skills.
Concerningly, the gap was greatest for those skills deemed most important. Of the six skills rated ‘important’ by at least 95% of employers, there was an average gap of 28%.
- The skills gap is real, substantial, and largest for the most important skills
- Many prospective students are not aware of the skills that employers place most value in
- The skills gap is present for both technical and non-technical skills
After taking a look at the research findings above, it is apparent that the graduate skills gap is an issue that higher education providers should look towards rectifying. Business have mentioned that they had trouble finding and keeping workers with the appropriate skills, and the federal government has also identified that improving graduate rates and employment outcomes would boost Australia’s economic productivity by $3.1 billion a year.
So, what can we do to bridge the gap?
1) Incorporate opportunities for students to gain professional workplace experience throughout their studies
For example, the whole idea of ‘corporate-university’- style training options have come amid growing interest from students to learn on the job instead of a lecture theatre. This enables students to acquire the practical skills required to meet client demands.
2) Provide on-campus career counselling to equip students with an accurate and realistic understanding of employer expectations
While most institutions have career counselling and career advice sessions, they mainly focus on career planning. Institutions should aim to focus on incorporating an understanding of employer expectations as well.
3) Ensure that the technical skills being taught are modern, up to-date, and reflect those being used within the industry
For example, institutions have teamed up with Microsoft to align and integrate Microsoft’s technical skills programs and credentials to help address the growing 21st century talent gap. This helps prepare students with in-demand technologies in fields like AI, computer science, data science and more.
4) Emphasise the cross-workplace importance of data skills, regardless of field of study or intended career
Data skills are growing in demand and needed across various roles in different organisations. Hence, data literacy needs to be taken seriously, and conveyed appropriately.
Ultimately, in striving towards closing the gap, there needs to be a strong link between the institution and the industry to provide agile and adaptive courses, along with counselling students throughout their educational journey to help them with their transition from classroom to workplace.
For the detailed report on graduate employability in Australia, take a look at our whitepaper.