Bridging the Skill Gap: Equipping Students for Job Readiness and Employability

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Problem-solving and teamwork are the top skills employers are looking for, according to the NACE Job Outlook 2023 survey. Other skills on their most wanted list include:

Students demand a positive ROI from their education and want to know they are graduating with employable skills. Employers and the government are also holding schools accountable for equipping students with practical skills they can apply to the workplace.

Listen to Career Services expert Steve Hassinger and Professor Paul Miller talk about implementing career readiness into curriculum.


Employers prioritize candidates with a diverse skill set that aligns with the demands of the modern workplace. This shift away from the importance of a GPA places significant emphasis on job readiness and employability, urging colleges and professors to adapt their curricula to better prepare students for the challenges they will face in the professional world. In this blog, we explore the importance of addressing skill gaps in higher education and provide suggestions for colleges and professors to enhance their curriculum to meet these demands.

Emphasize Soft Skills Development

While technical knowledge remains crucial, employers increasingly prioritize soft skills, which are pivotal to professional success. Steve Hassinger, the Director of Career Services at Central Penn College, has over 30 years of experience working with students and employers. He sees the results of the NACE report in action. On a recent podcast, he said, “Being able to communicate well with people, critical thinking, teamwork skills, people who display professionalism. Those things are among the highest sought-after things that employers are looking for.” He continues, “These skills facilitate effective collaboration, enhance leadership potential, and enable individuals to navigate diverse work environments.”

Instructors can integrate soft skill development into course design with class projects, team-based assignments, and field experience.

Professor Paul Miller leads by example with his communication students. As an active volunteer, he creates assignments where students volunteer and participate in their community. The assignments give students experience and life lessons about the importance of service for your community, career, and personal development. “What I’m trying to get my students to understand is it’s not just about the classroom. Yes, that’s important, but what else are you bringing to the table?” Miller says community service can be a tiebreaker for applicants in the job market. As a hiring manager, he asks, “What are they doing in the community? How are they giving back? How does that affect who they are as a person and what they’re bringing into a company? …You’re more than just an employee. You’re also a person impacting your community on a few different levels.”

🎤Listen to Steve Hassinger and Paul Miller talk about employability on the podcast. 

Here are examples of projects that provide students with opportunities to use real-world skills.

Volunteer Experience

One of Miller’s volunteer assignments is for a public relations class. Students choose an organization to volunteer for a day. Then, they research and analyze the organization’s public relations and provide a personal reflection on their experiences.

Spreadsheet mastery to demonstrate they understand how to collect, analyze, and present data.

Marketing plans to demonstrate they understand strategy, marketing analytics, and the ever-evolving world of digital media.

Communication plans to show students understand how to communicate in professional settings as well as how to communicate strategically with stakeholders.

White papers allow students to transform an academic paper into a work-ready, readable article that can be easily shared and used as a communication and sales tool.

Infographics and other graphics demonstrate students can convey complex information in a visually appealing and easily digestible manner.

Presentations to demonstrate they can create engaging, sharable presentations while honing their public and virtual speaking skills. Use presentation assignments in person, in live meetings, or as video submissions.

Reports: Students need to write various reports at work, including technical reports, recommendation reports, and feasibility studies.

Video submissions: Students need to use video to communicate with stakeholders. Create assignments where they can demonstrate their verbal communication skills.

Podcast Interviews: Students write scripts with questions for an interview. Depending on the student and topic, students record a podcast interview for submission.

Role-play sales calls, challenging customer scenarios, and conflict management situations. When students practice in the safe laboratory of a classroom, they can give and receive feedback to better understand their strengths and areas of improvement.

Foster Entrepreneurial and Innovative Mindsets

Organizations are looking for people who embrace innovation and adapt to disruptions. Instructors can foster an entrepreneurial mindset by encouraging creativity, curiosity, and problem-solving. Implementing project-based learning opportunities, hackathons, and entrepreneurship programs can empower students to develop an entrepreneurial perspective, even if they don’t pursue a business career.

Add assignments such as:

Business plans to encourage critical thinking, planning, strategy, and entrepreneurship.

Digital marketing plans are a practical tool to practice strategy, audience research, and targeted planning.

Product development cycle planning helps students understand how products go from innovative ideas to reality.

Project management planning gives students practice in scheduling human resources, asset management, and product development.

Strengthen Industry Partnerships and Internship Opportunities

Collaborating with industry partners and providing practical internship opportunities can significantly enhance students’ job readiness. Engaging with professionals in the field allows students to gain insights into industry trends, challenges, and expectations. Additionally, internships provide an invaluable chance for students to apply theoretical knowledge in a practical setting, bridging the gap between academia and the workforce.

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Microcredential programs are another tool to attract working students to return to school. Read more about The Benefits of Converting Existing Courses to Micro-Credential Programs for Student Success.

Go beyond encouraging students to take advantage of their career center. Instead, create an assignment where students meet with the career center to understand their offerings, get resume and interview assistance, and learn about internships and jobs. Building the relationship between the career center and students is a bridge for students to connect with industry partners.

Addressing the skill gap and prioritizing job readiness is essential for colleges and professors to fulfill their commitment to providing holistic education to students. By focusing on soft skills development, creating real-world assignments, and strengthening industry and career center partnerships, universities can adapt their curricula to meet the evolving demands of the job market.

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Angela Britcher

Angela Britcher is an instructional designer and content creator with The Babb Group. She is also an adjunct professor of business and communications.
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