By developing knowledge workers that industry needs, universities can maintain their mission of enabling strong graduate outcomes, the paper from Nous Group indicates.
The University as connector report, produced in collaboration with StudyPortals and Lightcast, urges institutions to alleviate skills shortages in Australia, Canada, the UK and US by concentrating on the skills “mismatch”.
Employers cannot find workers with relevant skills, and the mismatch has been exacerbated by tech-based disruption, demographic changes, geopolitical tensions and the pandemic, it says. And data can help to point institutions to make decisions.
“Workforce gaps are having wide-ranging impacts on industries across the globe and threatening the sustainability of many businesses and organisations,” Nous Group principal and author of the paper, Peter Wiseman, said.
Local labour markets alone cannot satisfy workforce challenges, he maintained, adding that “attracting international talent is essential”.
“Universities have an important role to play when demand from employers for skills is not aligned to study interest areas identified by prospective students,” he noted.
The research draws on Lightcast’s labour market insights and Studyportals’ global view of study demand.
Across the four countries analysed in the report, employer demand was similar in 2022, with engineering, computer science, nursing and business graduates highly sought after. The paper acknowledges that in some industries the skills match is working well.
However, speaking with The PIE News, Wiseman noted that employer and student demand for STEM education and training, does not mean universities will necessarily move away from traditional liberal arts programs.
“There is going to be a continuing need for liberal arts because critical thinking is still a fundamental skill,” he detailed.
“Artificial intelligence has interesting intersections with the liberal arts, for example in ethics, or how AI might be used in public policy and how you build an appropriate knowledge of that into liberal arts education.”
Photo: Nous Group
Employers are interested in collaborating with universities on work-integrated learning and internships that can address workforce needs quickly, offering guarantees of employment, subject to degree completion, and employer-funded scholarships, the paper added.
These types of provision will also be attractive to students by “providing certainty, experience and employment”, it said.
“We’ve shown in the paper changes in industry demand for particular skills or people with particular qualifications, but the great thing about the Lightcast data is you can actually narrow that down very, very specifically,” Wiseman told The PIE.
Universities should be drilling down into data to understand which employers they should approach and engage with around work integrated learning or paid internships, he continued.
The report also touched on ROI on marketing to students that are “interested in studying in areas of greatest need”. While marketing and promotional activities can be “expensive and scattershot”, data provided by international education specialists can “drill down” to a city level to show where investment is most likely to succeed.
“The value for universities here is to drill down in great detail,” Wiseman continued.
“You can actually look at what employers are looking for and where there is interest in studying in those particular locations. The university themselves can think about where they have something distinctive that they can offer employers and students. Essentially this methodology allows each university to carve out distinctive opportunities.”
“University themselves can think about where they have something distinctive”
Over the last two decades universities have promoted business degrees which has “become very generic”, he continued.
“Instead we can actually think about chemical engineering or pharmacy or nursing or something else that the university is particularly good at and deliver it in a way that’s going to be really attractive to employers and students,” he said.
Additionally, paid internships, work-integrated learning and guarantee of employment for top students can have mutual benefit for students, employers and institutions.
“That provides students with some forward vision about the future, it helps [universities] with the retention of students and employers [benefit as] they’ve got some real workforce challenges. [There is also an opportunity] to tap into that capability while people are still studying but also at the end of peoples degrees,” he added.
While the report is not forecasting for the future, the data used can give insight about which industries are going to be most impacted by shifting workforce needs.
“That can give a sense of which which industry partners might be more at risk of change and therefore will need more support. There’s wonderful opportunities for universities to help in that space. It’s really golden,” he said.
The Studyportals data can also help to predict enrolments 12-18 months in advance, he noted.