Closing the Awareness Gap Requires a Team Effort

In March 2017, Forbes made the case that the IT skills gap is really more of an awareness gap: “College graduates’ skills are not visible to employers because while they’re leaving colleges and universities with transcripts and resumes, employers aren’t able to see the skills they’ve developed through coursework and co-curricular activities.”

Until academic programs provide current and prospective students with documentation on how their multitude of classes translates into mastery of different skills, students are left trying to connect the dots on their own. But to connect the dots, students must step back and reflect on their lessons and experiences to translate them into skills — quite a challenging task in the midst of an academic term or degree program.

Connect the Dots to Show Value

While more mature and serious students are able to articulate the skills gleaned from their in-class and extracurricular experiences, many just aren’t used to planning at such a strategic level. This critical thinking is imperative to determine if there are any gaps in their job readiness. As Matt Sigelman, CEO of Burning Glass Technologies, wrote for The Hechinger Report, students are “leaving school with a valuable set of skills, but often lack that last specific skill or two that can clinch the first job.”

Students need help going from almost qualified to fully qualified. For some, it is simply a matter of outlining the skills gained through coursework and extracurricular experiences. For others, it means adding a skill or two to their inventory.

A Collaborative Effort to Close the Awareness Gap

We recently outlined five strategies to help recent graduates close the awareness gap by rethinking their resumes and actively planning their professional development, including what should they focus on after graduation and how they should connect the dots. But this effort also requires buy-in from other stakeholders such as academic advisers, career center employees, instructors and hiring managers. Below is advice for those stakeholders to help students reach their potential and realize their professional goals.

The Role of Academic Advisers

Academic advisers need to make sure they are not merely steering students to the right courses at the right time, but also guiding them toward career-fulfilling choices. Some of those choices will involve academic minors or certificates. In other cases, the advice will cover additional professional certifications that students can attempt while in school or shortly after graduation.

The Role of Career Centers

While academic advisers focus on courses and skills relative to a chosen profession, career development center employees should work to assess and develop students’ readiness to enter the workforce. For some, this could mean multiple rounds of help to improve their resumes and cover letters, job interview training, key tips for writing workplace-appropriate emails, when and how to ask for help, and more. In other words, career centers should provide students with soft skills — how to listen, how to speak, how to write and how to act at work.

The Role of Instructors

Instructors also have a key role to play to reduce the awareness gap. Course curricula should be aligned toward program outcomes and mapped for the knowledge, skills and abilities it covers for a given profession.

As an instructor, my job isn’t just to deliver lectures — it is to help students create new thought patterns, to conceptualize and absorb content for the subject at hand, and to integrate those concepts into the larger thread of knowledge, skills and abilities they will need for their profession. Take a subject such as mathematics or statistics, for example. Students will be more engaged and retain information for much longer if the theoretical material is connected to the real world.

The Role of Hiring Managers

Hiring managers can and should play a key role in closing the awareness gap. While faculty members consider themselves the original gatekeepers, employers are the true gatekeepers. A student may have excellent academic scores but fail to translate his or her coursework into the skills needed to land the job.

Employers and, more specifically, hiring managers are excellent sources of information regarding students’ job readiness. With that role comes the great responsibility of sharing feedback with stakeholders. To help close the awareness gap, hiring managers should:

  • Provide regular feedback to departments about the quality and level of preparation of seniors and recent graduates.
  • Take an ownership stake in the development and review of academic programs and align degree programs with the needs of the workforce.
  • Consider creating internship programs to further educate students and make inroads with potential full-time recruits.
  • Visit and interact with junior- and senior-level courses, share feedback and recommendations for improvements, and help students understand how the long list of courses that makes up their degree fits into their chosen profession.

Everyone Must Step Up

The skills gap — or, rather, the awareness gap — isn’t going to disappear overnight. While students need to own up to their career choices, starting with their choice of majors and how they invest their time preparing for their profession, this issue requires security leaders, hiring managers and other stakeholders to step up and take action to reduce the gap.

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Christophe Veltsos

InfoSec, Risk, and Privacy Strategist - Minnesota State University, Mankato

Chris Veltsos is a professor in the Department of Computer Information Science at Minnesota State University, Mankato where he regularly teaches Information Security and Information Warfare classes. Beyond the classroom, Chris is also very active in the security community, engaging with community groups and advising business leaders on how to best manage information security risks.