10 Ways to Fix Education to Make Students Job Ready

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“Soft Skills” Gap Is Keeping Job Seekers from Good Jobs

Students Need Better Guidance When Making Career Decisions

TORONTO, Aug. 14, 2019 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- 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. Express Employment Professionals released 10 recommendations today to help schools better train students for the demands of the modern workforce.

All across the country, employers lament the fact that schools are not preparing new 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 university-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.

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Based on input from Express franchise owners, local workforce experts and surveys, Express developed 10 recommendations to improve the workplace readiness of new graduates.

1. Focus on oral and written communication “soft skills”.
In order to communicate effectively, students need to learn basic grammar and spelling, as well as email etiquette.

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. Many employers complain that young people do not know how to handle a job interview, or to follow up with a call or email.

In addition, educators can better inform students on ways to obtain a job, such as networking, instead of just online job searching.

A lack of interview readiness and lack of soft skills can result in new job seekers who are qualified on paper being passed over for a position because they cannot properly manage the application and interview process.

3. Provide better and more up-to-date career guidance counselling.
The career guidance counselling provided to students is often out-of-date, or incomplete, and can be biased toward careers that require a university degree.

Providing guidance counsellors regularly with up-to-date data on in-demand jobs and what is required to obtain those jobs, as well as ensuring students are provided with information about a range of careers (including skilled trades), will help students make career decisions that are more informed and better suit their interests and strengths.

4. Set realistic expectations for first jobs after graduation.
Students often have the impression that when they graduate, they will immediately be entering a managerial or high-level role upon entrance into the workforce. 

Educators could better prepare their students by encouraging them to be ambitious in their career dreams but educate them about the time needed to pay their dues and to gain valuable experience.

“Giving students a realistic view of what real jobs look like after school is very important,” said Culo. “Your first job out of school may be a lower level than you want or expect, but if it’s a good company where you can gain valuable experience and there is room for upward movement, it could be a good opportunity. Students need to understand companies require experience for more advanced positions.”

5. Provide more opportunity for real-world job experiences.
There is no better place for students to learn about what it is really like to have a job than to provide real-world work opportunities. Through co-ops or job placements students can learn what a certain career or job is like on a day-to-day basis.

Real-world work experiences also help students learn other important soft skills employers are desperately in search of, such as collaboration and problem-solving, in a way that cannot be taught at school.

“The experience section of a resume is always the first place employers look and, in many fields, experience trumps education,” said Bruce Hein, an Express franchise owner in Sarnia, Ontario. “I would encourage students to take co-op in high school and get any experience they can in their desired industry. A lot of companies find their next full-time employee from their co-op or intern pool. Once you have experience, you have options.” 

6. Teach basic personal finance at the earliest opportunity.
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.

Students who understand budgeting, planning, car maintenance, health insurance, taxes, etc., will start out with a better understanding of how a company works and are more likely to be successful in their careers. They will also more easily learn and understand business finances as they relate to a job, such as revenue, gross margin, net profit, markup, budgets, ROI, and customer acquisition cost.

7. Put a greater emphasis on Science, Technology, Engineering, Math (STEM).
Technology has become an increasingly significant part of almost every job that exists today, regardless of the field or position. Constantly changing technology requires workers to have some skills that weren’t required in the past.

“We live in a world of increasingly complex challenges with access to vast amounts of technical data,” said Dan Purdy, and Express franchise owner in Abbotsford, British Columbia. “It is imperative that this generation of students develop a STEM fluency to understand, address, and solve large-scale problems.” 

8. Promote technical education offerings.
Four-year university degrees 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 institution instead.

“University isn’t for everyone, and there should not be a stigma around those who choose to pursue the skilled trades,” said Hein. “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. Provide and promote mentors.
It’s rare for graduates to land their dream job at the top of the career ladder immediately upon graduation. They should understand that enlisting the help of a mentor will get them there a lot faster.

Educators cannot possibly know the requirements and details of the many various in-demand jobs. A mentor can provide students with real-world information and advice to help guide a student in their career decision.

10. Forge partnerships with local businesses.
Ultimately, educators can’t know what workforce qualities graduates are lacking unless business owners tell them.

Better collaboration between local employers and schools can help ensure students are learning the skills employers require in addition to getting their basic education.

Better collaboration with local employers can also help schools identify more work placements, provide more mentorship opportunities for students, and provide schools with the ability to invite local business owners to meet with students are directly provide answers to questions they may have about career choices.

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 Canada, 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.”

If you would like to arrange for an interview to discuss this topic, please contact Ana Curic at (613) 858-2622 or email ana@mapleleafstrategies.com.

About Bill Stoller
William H. "Bill" Stoller is chairman and chief executive officer of Express Employment Professionals. Headquartered in Oklahoma City, the international staffing company has more than 800 franchises in the U.S., Canada and South Africa. Since its inception, Express has put more than 7.7 million people to work worldwide.

About Express Employment Professionals
Express Employment Professionals puts people to work. It generated $3.56 billion in sales and employed a record 566,000 people in 2018. Its long-term goal is to put a million people to work annually. For more information, visit ExpressPros.com.

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