Realigning Higher Education and Employment Opportunity

This past week in Madrid Spain, Laureate International Universities hosted The Laureate Summit on Youth & Jobs in Europe.  While held in Europe with a focus on the especially large challenges of youth unemployment in Europe, the fundamental question addressed at the conference is one just as important to other parts of the world, including North America: How can we improve college and university graduates’ employment opportunities?

Unemployment in countries like Spain where the summit was held is above 50% for youth.  Even in the US, unemployment and underemployment have remained a challenge.  The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the April 2013 seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for US males between 16 and 19 was 24.1% in contrast to an overall unemployment rate of 7.5%.  Youth unemployment is a worldwide problem.

Doug Becker, the Founder of Laureate, opened the Summit with a focus on two significant issues that are associated with youth unemployment – (a) the assessment gap and (b) the reinvention of work.  Mr. Becker pointed to the limitations that colleges and universities have in assisting employers in assessing the skills of young people beyond grades, test scores and graduation.  He pointed to the need for colleges and universities to develop professional assessment tools that measured the assessment gap.  He also focused on the challenge that colleges and universities will face in the future with the reinvention of work as “on-demand” rather than permanent.  We already see the challenges of “on demand” work in the number of contract employees rather than permanent employees.

It was the assessment gap that captured the attention of many of those who spoke after Mr. Becker.  Jesus Galindo of Cisco in Spain stated, “There is a gap between what the company needs and what is offered in the labor market.”  Mr. Galindo was pointing to the need for colleges and universities to do a far better job of addressing the assessment gap.  One solution is for colleges and universities to develop close partnerships with industry and individual businesses.  With a close partnership higher education can increase the extent to which it modifies curriculum, internships and other aspects of the academic experience to provide students the opportunities to build needed knowledge and skills.

Another option is the one that Mr. Becker described at Laureate in terms of an assessment tool that can be used by student and counselor to identify those courses and experiences (e.g., internships) that will fill gaps and increase the specific knowledge and skills desired by businesses.  This early college assessment can then be reviewed in light of a later assessment that the graduate can provide to an employer.

While the Summit was not intended to solve the global youth unemployment problem, it did make progress in bringing together parties from business, education and government with suggestions like partnerships and new forms of assessment to raise the preparation of youth for employment.

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