Published on 2014/03/05

Online Training Could Help Offset the Job Skills Mismatch

Online Training Could Help Offset the Job Skills Mismatch
Employers are increasingly looking to online programs to help bridge the gap between the skills their entry-level employees have and those needed to succeed in their company.
Is there really a job skills gap in America? Many seem to think so. In a McKinsey “Education to Employment” study of 8,000, the responses by education providers, employers and students revealed a stark mismatch: 72 percent of providers versus only 45 percent of employers and 44 percent of students believe recent graduates are job ready. [1]

The easy solution is simply better communication among stakeholders. However, for education providers, any alterations to current curriculum require input from employers on changing industry skill requirements.

As a whole, employers would rather hire candidates with strong foundational skills and later offer them specialized training as needed. This helps offset the cost of providing longer-term training should workers move on. The only exception to this is when an educational reimbursement policy is in place to help retain workers in those industries where labor shortages or high turnover exist.

2013 survey of employers by the Association of American Colleges and Universities found that “more than three out of four employers identified five key learning outcomes [as desirable for all job candidates]: critical thinking, complex problem-solving, written and oral communication and applied knowledge in real-world settings.”

The last of these, “applied knowledge in real-world settings,” takes place more often than not online today. Aside from the traditional university or community college partnership, online learning has been widely adopted by companies to provide both specialized knowledge and soft skills training.

But a one-size-fits-all program is not suitable for all employees. And the expertise needed to customize training is often not available in-house. One solution is to bring in extended online courses that deal with “real-world” workplace issues. Each course is practical by design and helpful in developing workplace insights and relationships­­; the skills employers value most.

Such extended courses may be quite intensive and run for only six weeks rather than the typical 15 weeks of training. To provide extra value and worker incentive, each course can carry university credits towards an associate’s or bachelor’s degree, so seeking out courses that are recommended for credit by the American Council on Education is valuable both for employees and employers. The other four skills valued by the majority of employers also merit attention. Critical thinking is top on the list and usually associated with the ability to analyze data, make decisions, take initiative and evaluate solutions.

Such skills are developed in online coursework through close analytical readings, short reflective essays, discussion board dialogue, reflective journaling, workplace issue presentations, a summative essay and a proctored written examination.

All employers identify oral and written communications as quintessential skills for the 21st century. Social media, e-commerce, email, video and mobile technologies are bringing the world closer together, faster than ever before. Employees who are able to connect easily with customers, both orally and in writing, will play a strategic role in any company’s future.

Finally the ability to solve complex problems means an emphasis on systems thinking and case study. First there is the characteristic of a problem. Then there are strategies, methodologies, barriers and constraints to consider. In all cases, general exposure to these concepts allow for more efficiency in attacking real problems at the corporate level.

Educational providers need to incorporate employer recommendations into their curriculum and help ease the transition from study to work. Students and employers agree that university programs are not currently ensuring the right learning outcomes are being fully mastered.

Workplace learning is often learning by doing. But unless basic and foundational skills can be demonstrated during the hiring process, there will continue to be a skills mismatch to the detriment of the job applicant and society.

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[1] McKinsey Center for Government, “Education to employment: Designing a system that works,” McKinsey and Company. Accessed at

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Readers Comments

Mike H 2014/03/05 at 11:47 am

I’m not sure online is the answer to all our problems in the training space. Just because something is online does not make it more appealing to employees. Having the capacity to work a full day, and then go home to do your mandatory training, is not as exciting a prospect and employers find it.

Moreover, if the training is online… many adults still challenge to succeed with online learning formats. A face-to-face class will probably be necessary just to teach employees how to do the learning.

Finally, again on the point of motivation, as a former online program graduate I know that online learning takes a lot more drive and motivation than a face-to-face class. Putting mandatory training in an online format puts employees into a position that will probably minimize engagement with the learning material.

    Jon Felperin 2014/03/13 at 5:48 am


    There are two main issues to address. One is the need for relevance and the other is the need for accessibility.

    The job skills mismatch, or the perception of it, is very real. Yet most educators, not necessarily trainers, are clearly unaware of it.

    But employees themselves know more or less when it comes to getting hired or doing the job that something is lacking. And they are perfectly capable of seeking out training options that suit their needs, budgets and schedules.

    So what are the solutions?

    Which brings me to the second issue. You may know you need to make changes, or learn certain skills, but will circumstances allow you to take action?

    Hence convenience or flexibility is everything to the non-traditional student. Twenty plus years ago the only options were either night school or weekend degree programs. Now online is a possibility. From the sheer numbers of people now attempting online learning, it appears the modality is relevant and has found a following.

    But what about the quality of online learning? And how can this not-so-new modality continue to be relevant?

Belinda Chang 2014/03/05 at 11:10 pm

I see Mike’s point, but I disagree. I think employees realize that ongoing learning is critical to their ability to succeed in the workforce. Given that, I’m sure many of them would much rather see the quantity and quality of continuing ed opportnities grow so they can pursue this ongoing learning when it’s most convenient for them.

It saves companies money, it saves employees time, and the economy benefits.

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