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US: “white hot” race for talent post Covid

Attendees at the annual three-day ASU+ GSV Summit were challenged to consider a new era in which all people have equal access to the future.

Fostering strong 'soft skills', such as writing, leadership ability, and critical thinking in students is a "top challenge", speakers said. Photo: Pexels

"As a result of the competitive talent market and the urgent need for up-skilling, investments in employee learning appear to be growing"

The conference, which began 12 years ago as a collaboration between Arizona State University and Global Silicon Valley, gathers thought leaders from various sectors, including technology, education, business, politics and entertainment, to engage in dialogue concerning the transformation of learning, work, and society.

During keynote addresses and breakout sessions, topics such as climate change, access and equity in edtech, teacher burnout, and social emotional wellness of learners and workers were addressed.

Executive director of Northeastern University’s Center for the Future of Higher Education and Talent Strategy Sean Gallagher was a summit presenter, offering sessions on the future of business education and credentialing.

He spoke with The PIE News about the face of the US job market post-pandemic and the implications it has on HEIs to prepare students for the global economy they will enter upon graduation.

“The top challenge I see is the need for strong ‘soft skills,’ including writing, leadership ability, and critical thinking,” he said, which he has heard consistently from employers, as evidenced through a C-suite study he conducted last year. He is witnessing a rise in AI investment; increased employer acceptance of online learning and credentials, as well as their willingness to pay for it; and a “white hot” race for talent.

“It’s hard enough for employers to find talent in the STEM fields,” Gallagher asserted, in which, he indicated, the vast majority of international students in the US are enrolled.

“But beyond technical ability,” he continued, “businesses are seeking well-rounded employees, and many higher education programs, whether at the graduate or undergraduate level, are not preparing students well enough in that regard.”

Gallagher proffered HEIs can better prepare international students for the job market through real-world work experiences and projects. “Experiential learning hones work-related skills and creates resume-worthy experiences and outputs. Employers favour graduates with related work experience, and that’s why on-campus jobs and internships are in incredibly high demand from international students.”

He also recently conducted a workplace learning report with two fellow Northeastern professors, including Tova Sanders, who attended the ASU + GSV summit virtually.

Sanders and her colleagues found, “as a result of the competitive talent market and the urgent need for up-skilling, investments in employee learning appear to be growing”.

“In many cases the pendulum has swung back toward emphasising ‘building’ as much as buying talent,” it noted.

“In many cases the pendulum has swung back toward emphasising ‘building’ as much as buying talent”

A theme that resounded throughout myriad ASU + GSV summit offerings, was also highlighted by Gallagher, Sanders, and Rashid Mosely in the document, as the authors asserted, “Learning investments are now seen as a key competitive differentiator and vehicle for employee engagement and retention”.

Joe Marcus, a doctoral candidate at Northeastern University studying career identity development in multicultural student populations, also discussed employee engagement and retention with The PIE.

“We have an emergent group of job candidates who have recently completed their studies in the midst of a pandemic and may have very different expectations regarding the future of their employment with respect to elements such as remote work options, work hour flexibility, and a company’s general operational culture.”

He cautioned that companies struggling to retain workers may need to reconsider their traditional functioning structure.

As well, he advised that international students ensure they are “aware of digital cultural conventions and office expectations both in the country, and in the company, in which they are seeking employment”.

The next ASU + GSV summit is scheduled for April 17-19, 2023 in San Diego, California.

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