McKinsey published a report on education- to- employment last week that sounded a chill note to match the drop in temperature here in the UK.  Unfortunately, its central messages were equally chilling for other countries globally.  What clues does it provide for a way forward for 21st Century graduate employability?

The report drew upon two pieces of evidence: first, an analysis of more than 100 education-to-employment initiatives from 25 countries, selected on the basis of their innovation and effectiveness; second, a survey of youth, education providers and employers in nine countries diverse in geography and socioeconomic context: Brazil, Germany, India, Mexico, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States.

It found that only half of youth believe that their post-secondary studies improved their employment opportunities (that also means half do) and 39% of employers say a skills shortage is a leading reason for entry-level vacancies (or the majority did not).

The report focuses on 6 highlights, including ideas for tackling the challenges.  Here’s my view on each of them:

1.    Employers, education providers, and youth live in parallel universes

I.e. they don’t understand each other.  Education providers are far more optimistic than employers or youth that graduates are adequately prepared by their institution for entry-level jobs in their chosen field.

Viewpoint: Educators, wake up and smell the coffee, adapt or technology will eat you up and young people will vote with their wallets and feet. Re-define your purpose and evolve your culture to either embrace both academic learning and preparing your students to be better prepared for a significant step change in their lives, or separate the two out.  Youth, avoid victimhood before it becomes self-fulfilling, take personal responsibility, shape your future and commit to lifelong learning. Employers, stop throwing your hands up in the air in despair at the youth of today and stop blaming the educators.  Move closer to both and help them.

2.    The education-to-employment journey is fraught with obstacles

The cost of a degree is seen as prohibitive by youth, they don’t feel hands-on/on-the-job development has been adequately prioritised within existing degrees, and say they experience a bumpy transition to the workplace/work is unrelated to their field of study/they want to change jobs quickly.

Viewpoint: Youth, shape what you can and develop greater resilience.  Mentally remove obstacles by starting with your personal end in mind: ask yourself how you want to feel in your life and then make decisions that bring that about.  Be open-minded: for example, think transdisciplinary when choosing a degree subject, do a degree later in life when it’s more affordable, consider alternatives to university like apprenticeships or starting a business.  Hold your educators to account so the links between your study and the workplace are more transparent. Educators, build work placements into every degree and encourage academics to take work placements outside of semesters. Do more to bridge the gap through working collaboratively and partnering.

3.    The education-to-employment system fails for most employers and young people

Employers that are successful in getting the talent they want reach out regularly to education providers and youth, offering them time, skills, and money. Youth succeed when most do not because they actively manage their decisions about their education and career.

Viewpoint: We need more employers to reach out not just through incentives but because it’s the right thing to do if we want this generation to succeed for all our future benefit.  The future belongs to those who take charge of their learning, with each individual taking ownership and responsibility for self-development and their career.  It is vital we support our young people now so that they feel they are not alone in seeking their first steps into the workplace.

Let’s liberate talent, not manage it; coach and mentor more, teach and exhort less.

4.    Innovative and effective programs around the world have two important elements in common

First, education providers and employers actively step into one another’s worlds; second, the education-to-employment journey is treated as a continuum in which employers commit to hire youth before they are enrolled in a programme to build their skills.

Viewpoint: The future of work lies in a more globally connected, socially collaborative and emotionally intelligent world.  The technology is already here, as the emergence of MOOCs (massive open online courses) is showing.  So, isn’t it time we saw our universities, colleges, employers and recruiters collaborate more in providing a joined-up, 21st century service to facilitate the learning of their students, graduates, applicants or candidates at a critical point in their lives?

5.    Creating a successful education-to-employment system requires new incentives and structures

Stakeholders, like parents and educators, need better data to make informed choices and manage performance.  Collaborations of multiple stakeholders solve the skill gap at a sector level and by splitting costs among educators, employers and trainees, investment is reduced for everyone.

Viewpoint: In a world where the ability to access data through technology is greater than ever, there is no longer an excuse for not informing and empowering all stakeholders. Collaboration is the vehicle for communicating and engaging today and tomorrow.  The exponential speed of change means we are increasingly ahead of those hierarchical institutions and organisations that are too slow to adapt.  Your fitness must match our purpose.

6.    Education-to-employment solutions need to scale up

Coupling technology and a highly standardised curriculum can help to supplement education provision and spread consistent instruction at a modest cost.  Technology, in the form of “serious games” and other kinds of simulations, can help by offering tailored, detailed, practical experience to large numbers at a comparatively low cost. Serious-game simulation could become the apprenticeship of the 21st century. A proven approach is to combine customisation and scale by offering a standard core curriculum complemented by employer-specific top-ups.

Viewpoint: The traditional ways of learning are changing all around us, driven by our addiction to the Internet and the awesome power of the new digital emperors to influence our choices and decision-making.  We’re taking on the emperors’ new clothes and can’t avoid it now that more people on the planet have a mobile phone than running water.  Want to know something? Google it.  Want a quick answer to a question? Ask on Twitter. Want to show it instantly? Pinterest or Instagram. Want to see how to do something? YouTube.  We learn mostly by doing and increasingly it’s collaborative and using technology.

So, the idea of going to the traditional lecture at university as an individual to acquire knowledge will change as we seek to use our time differently.  People are less inclined to be lectured (we can read it ourselves).  However, they do want support to make sense of stuff in real time (which is why ‘chat support’ is so popular for online customer service) and that is where employer involvement becomes crucial.

Traditionalists may warn of a more transactional rather than transformational learning experience.  For me, the door is being opened for a more empowered, prepared and employable 21st Century graduate if educators, employers and youth take a more integrated and holistic approach..

What’s your viewpoint?