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Universities need private sector to help prepare students for work

Education institutions are so focused on getting students in the door, that they lose sight of how to prepare young people to succeed in today’s tough labour market, argues Mona Mourshed (pictured), partner and director of education at McKinsey and Company.

Having studied the gap between education and employment globally, Mourshed is calling for the private sector to get deeply involved in developing curricula and providing work experience.

“The system we have today that gets you from education to employment is fundamentally broken,” Mourshed said in an interview with University World News at the World Innovation Summit for Education held in Doha, Qatar, from 13-15 November.

“Education providers are much more motivated to focus on getting youth onto campus and less focused on how to prepare youth to exit.”

Her comments are based on a survey of 8,000 youth, educators and employers in nine countries around the world, including the United States, India and Brazil. The report, called Education to Employment, will be published on 6 December 2012.

An earlier McKinsey report focusing on Arab youth clearly described the challenge of educating youth to compete in the labour market. The unemployment rate among youth in the Middle East is over 25% and higher among females. Yet, employers complained that only a third of graduates were prepared for the workplace. About 80% of graduates came through the university system.

Educators appear to be somewhat out of touch with the skills that are needed to thrive post-graduation. “Education providers are much more optimistic about job readiness than employers and youth are,” Mourshed said.

“Education providers will say that all skills are important, whereas employers will place much clearer prioritisation on soft skills – where the likes of team work and work ethic come out quite strongly.”

This gap in perceptions about job readiness is why Mourshed is calling for the private sector to work much more closely with post-secondary institutions. Successful programmes addressing the education-employment transition that she looked at involved employers shaping curricula.

“They work backwards from what skills they need for their profession and then they think about the implications for the curriculum and the learning objectives.”

The Automotive Manufacturing Technical Education Collaborative (AMTEC), based in the United States, is an example that Mourshed highlighted.

AMTEC is a collaboration of 30 manufacturers and 35 community and technical colleges that work closely together to produce graduates with job-ready skills. Students enrolled in these programmes typically spend half of their time in the classroom and half their time learning in manufacturing facilities during practicums.

As part of the Go for Gold programme, based in South Africa, the private sector reaches even further back into students’ education. Companies in the construction sector tutor Grades 11 and 12 students in specific skills they need employees to possess, including mathematics, computer competencies and life skills.

Mourshed suggested that colleges and universities will need to bring in this type of programme to be competitive.

“For those educational institutions that are forward looking and reading the signs of what employers are looking for, they are moving forward in this direction,” she said, “and students will ultimately vote with their feet in terms of where they go.”

“Imagine a world where education institutions had to look at job placement rates and had to look at how graduates were doing three or five years after graduation, to see what actually happened to their career trajectory and wages.”

When asked whether a focus on job-readiness takes away from some element of the general education students ought to encounter at university, Mourshed was quick to respond.

“There are many youth in the world today who don’t have the luxury to be able to think 'do I go right or do I go left?',” she said. “They are facing real concerns about how to support their families, about how they can ensure that they do have a job that, by the way, their family has gone into debt to be able to provide.”

“Education has a much broader purpose than employment alone,” Mourshed continued.

“We want education to deliver citizens of their country plus global citizens of the world. However, if education does not enable youth to have skills to obtain employment, then we have a problem.”


Great article and I agree with the gap between what’s needed and what’s being taught. I have been in the workforce for 30 years and have recently enrolled in Grad school for MAE programme. Would love to read your Education to Employment article and see how the generational swing played a role, if any. I think it would be in the best interests of labour to have a deeper collaboration between the job market and curriculum development. Thanks.

Michael Keibler on the University World News Facebook page


Unfortunately, this is nothing new. Employers have lamented the lack of preparation for many, many years. A consortium of organisations that included the Conference Board published the report Are they Really Ready for Work? in 2006. There are others too.

Paul Binkley on the University World News Facebook page


I experienced it over 25 years ago after my first graduate degree--sorely prepared for the working environment. Learned by the seat of my pants.

http://BetterEdit.com on the University World News Facebook page
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