Brain power

Connecting work and education more effectively

Originally posted on The Horizons Tracker.

In the rich world, a strange conundrum has emerged as countries have slowly emerged from the winter lockdowns designed to slow the third wave of the Covid-19 pandemic. Despite millions of people being out of work, companies have been complaining vocally about a shortage of workers, with vacancies going unfilled. Indeed, in America alone, there are said to be around 8 million vacancies currently unfilled.

While the situation is complex and will likely require a combination of tweaks to the welfare system to ensure it encourages work and steps to ensure that the current restrictions to migration don’t last beyond the pandemic, research1 from Harvard also believes stronger connections between education and industry will also be key, especially over the longer term.

Human capital development

The researchers analyzed applicants to the Postsecondary Innovation for Equity initiative, which is a grant competition run by the New Profit organization.  The competition awards $100,000 to social entrepreneurs to help young people from disadvantaged backgrounds embark on promising careers.  The applicants were chosen due to the insight they provide into the interplay between colleges, training providers, employers, and schools.

The analysis revealed a tenuous connection between education and employment, which is undermining social mobility.  In order for the situation to improve in the post-Covid world, they urge policymakers, employers, and educators to develop programs that more effectively integrate education and work.

The study outlines a number of key problems.  For instance, the researchers found that too few organizations, whether in academia or industry, are currently combining work experience and postsecondary credentials.  It’s far more common to focus on either college matriculation or careers, with just 16% of applicants looking to forge both worlds together.  This is compounded by the small number of organizations that are even tracking both educational attainment and career outcomes together.

Similarly, learning opportunities that occur in the workplace remain rare.  The authors argue that we tend to internalize skills far better when we learn them in the place where they’re applied, but suggest that few education providers provide such opportunities.  Indeed, just 25% of applicants were offering any kind of internship, apprenticeship, or other form of work-based learning.

This is perhaps in large part because so few of the applicants even had any kind of relationship with employers.  Indeed, the researchers found that just 35% of applicants said they work directly with employers, despite so much evidence illustrating the importance of doing so for the effectiveness of programs.

It also appeared common that education providers would rarely provide education that addressed both soft skills and technical skills, despite growing evidence that both will be required for the jobs of the future.  Indeed, just 9% of applicants in the program targeted hard and soft skills collectively.

Making improvements

The authors accept that these difficulties are certainly not new, nor their findings revolutionary, but they do believe that by providing empirical evidence of the lack of connectivity between academia and industry they can help to make the case for positive change.  The pressures introduced by the pandemic have merely exacerbated this need for change as disruptions have not only struck the jobs market, but struck it disproportionately on the young, on workers of color, and on the low skilled.

For instance, the authors believe that while the American Jobs Plan aims to support significant boosts to investments in training, it’s important that policymakers ensure that these investments ensure training is provided alongside work experience.

These will need to be aligned with pathways developed by employers to help direct people into good quality jobs.  There are clear benefits for us as individuals, for employers, and for society more broadly, of having a workforce with robust and transferable skills, especially in soft skills that are likely to be at a premium as technology continues its march.  The key will be helping not only those who are ready and willing to develop such skills, but also those who run the risk of falling through the cracks if more isn’t done to support them.

Article source: Connecting Work And Education More Effectively.

Header image source: Clayton Cardinalli on Unsplash.


  1. Fuller, J., Lipson, R., Encinas, J., Forshaw, T., Gable, A., & Schramm, J.B. (2021). Working to Learn: Despite a growing set of innovators, America struggles to connect education and career. Published by the Project on Workforce at the Malcolm Wiener Center for Social Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School and the Harvard Business School Managing the Future of Work Project.
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Adi Gaskell

I'm an old school liberal with a love of self organizing systems. I hold a masters degree in IT, specializing in artificial intelligence and enjoy exploring the edge of organizational behavior. I specialize in finding the many great things that are happening in the world, and helping organizations apply these changes to their own environments. I also blog for some of the biggest sites in the industry, including Forbes, Social Business News, Social Media Today and, whilst also covering the latest trends in the social business world on my own website. I have also delivered talks on the subject for the likes of the NUJ, the Guardian, Stevenage Bioscience and CMI, whilst also appearing on shows such as BBC Radio 5 Live and Calgary Today.

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