Bridging The Work-education Gap: Vocational Education And Educational Institutions

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The unprecedented ways in which the nature of work is changing has been a topic of intense discussion and debate in recent years.

Automation, artificial intelligence, robotics and other disruptive technologies, while reshaping the nature and design of work at unimaginable speed and scale, are also changing the demand for skills and competencies in the changing workplace.

It is paradoxical that there are jobs but not skilled workforce. In a McKinsey Global Survey conducted in May 2019 on future workforce needs, 90 percent of the executives and managers surveyed said their organizations either faced skill gaps or were expecting gaps within the next five years. 

The gaps the survey identified were not confined to technical skills alone but also soft skills.

McKinsey & Company, “Beyond hiring: How companies are reskilling to address talent gaps”, January 2020 This points to the fact that educational systems have lagged behind in keeping pace with the accelerated pace of the changing nature of work with the result that graduates are not industry ready and employers are unable to find employees with the right skill sets and mindset.

Investment in upskilling, reskilling and life-long learning to take on the challenges ahead is imperative. Clearly, the future of work is not just about the university degrees people hold but it is about having the hard and soft skills to work in the changing, challenging workplace.

A need for academia to review and update their curriculum in line with the changing needs of the industry is long overdue. In the current scenario, though a three-year or four-year degree imparts broad theoretical knowledge to students, most often the skills gained have been found to be potentially redundant.

The current system has failed to equip students with cognitive, technical, interpersonal, and problem-solving skills that are relevant and crucial in the future of work. It is here that vocational education can play a pivotal role in bridging the widening gap between the work and the workforce. 

Vocational education differs from the traditional university degree as it cuts out the broad academic training and focuses on making students ‘work ready’ by imparting industry specific skills and the conceptual knowledge relevant to the profession.

The choice between vocational and regular academic paths depends on the student’s learning preferences, career aspirations and of course, budget.

Replacing the regular academic degree which emphasizes on holistic development of individuals with vocational courses may not be the best solution as the former lays the foundation for life-long learning. 

However, to bridge the gap between work and education, colleges and universities need to play a key role by integrating vocational programmes with a certification or a diploma, along with their regular educational offerings.

By designing industry-driven certificate and / or diploma programmes, colleges and universities can not only attract students to enroll for their programmes but can also take a lead role in a particular field of study.

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