New benchmarking tool for higher ed seeks to address workplace soft skills gap


A new assessment tool created for higher education institutions to track and measure the career success of their graduates was launched this week by nonprofit organization Quality Assurance Commons. The tool, which is called the Employability Self-Assessment, helps institutions identify the key skills employers want in candidates in the current and post-pandemic workplace.

The ESA has already been piloted at 20 colleges and universities and is being implemented at eight higher education institutions in the Connecticut State Colleges & Universities System, according to a company press release[1].

Even before the pandemic, organizations were seeking candidates who showed strength in soft skills. Seventy-five percent of HR professionals who were having recruiting difficulty reported a shortage of skills among candidates for job openings in the Society for Human Resource Management’s 2019 report[2] on the global skills shortage and bridging the talent gap. According to the report, the top three missing soft skills reported by employers were problem solving, critical thinking, innovation and creativity; ability to deal with complexity and ambiguity; and communication.

Research has continued to reinforce a widening soft skills gap over the past five years, says Ralph Wolff, founder and president of QA Commons. But he says COVID-19 has put more pressure on higher education institutions to increase capacity of the soft skills that matter for employment.

“Employers tell us too often our graduates have technical and academic skills, but not the requisite soft skills that are critical for job success and promotability,” says Aaron Thompson, president of the Council on Postsecondary Education in Kentucky. “In today’s COVID-19 world, employability skills are as important as ‘hard’ skills. Adaptability and resilience, along with the ability to work remotely, are key skills for the future.”

The CPE has worked with QA Commons since November 2018 after Thompson was appointed president. Higher education should be seen as a lynchpin to building the workforce of the future in Kentucky and beyond, he says.

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