The hunt is on for exceptional talent, but is higher education producing it?

Woman interviewing male job applicant

One passionate Chief Human Resources Officer (CHRO) summed up what many others have said about current hiring practices at companies, “We are uncompromising in terms of the level of talent we will bring into the organization. I am constantly asked to lower the bar just so people can get a job filled and I just won’t do it because I know that the difference between great talent and good talent can truly be game changing.”

In our Talent Sustainability Report: The CHRO View From the Front Lines of the War on Talent, released at the White House Upskilling Summit earlier this year, we uncovered the perceptions of chief human resources officers from large corporations. We also discovered some implications for educators I’ll point out a bit later. But first, let’s take a look at some of the findings our research revealed about Millennials who have recently graduated and entered the workforce. We found:

  • More than two-thirds of employers report their Millennial workforce as being above average (59 percent) or exceptional (8 percent).
  • Challenges Millennials present in the workplace include: their desire to change employers more frequently and, at least from a traditional perspective, often unrealistic expectations about career progression.
  • Employers report Millennials are all too often lacking some foundational or soft skills including; communication (40 percent); professionalism/work ethic (33 percent); leadership (29 percent); self-direction (22 percent); critical thinking/problem solving (20 percent).

Another facet to examine to set the stage for the implications is to look at how the role of human resources is changing within business. Leading HR professionals are becoming much more analytical and less administrative as they take on increasing roles in helping their companies find and source key talent. CHRO’s also see their department’s role as critical to helping educate and continuously train their new and existing workforce.

Implications for Educators

The CHROs shared some incredibly valuable insights with us—both informally and in our survey—about the future search for talent and what it means for educators. We also brought together employers and community college presidents and leaders for several skills conferences to have a frank discussion about how employers and educators can work together to develop the skills of future and current workers who are prepared for success in the workplace. From this work, here are some of the future implications for educators that emerged:

  • Employers are reducing the number of colleges from which they recruit, focusing on a smaller number of schools with which they can have closer relationships and greater influence over curriculum and program design. This is coming at a time when policy makers at all levels are looking at expanding the data colleges might have to report on the outcomes of graduates. As employment outcomes data becomes available, schools that don’t want to work closely with employers could soon find themselves losing out on prospective students who consider post graduation employment their top priority.
  • While many colleges endeavor to teach students the most recent information and help them develop the latest technical skills, they must also develop their students’ critical foundational skills such as communications, collaboration, and teamwork that can often mean the difference between success and failure in the workplace. Technical skills and foundational skills are not an either/or choice. Students must graduate with both.
  • More employers are shifting their training from off-site, in-person, classroom training sessions, to individualized, just in time learning in small modules that workers can receive in place. Colleges that hope to be the lifelong learning provider of choice for employers must adapt their instructional delivery methods to meet this new reality.

A year speaking with CHRO’s really underscored what a “career destabilizer” it is when workers stop learning and growing. As one CHRO put it, “Success is less about specific technical skills. Because the minute you have a technical skill, it’s obsolete. It is more about learning agility and knowledge that skills need to evolve.”

As companies struggle to find and source the talent they need to remain competitive, it is increasingly important they have education partners that understand their skill needs and who will work with them in partnership to develop those skills.   


About the Author
Jaime Fall

Jaime Fall

Jaime Fall is the vice president of workforce and talent sustainability at HR Policy Foundation.  He also serves as director, UpSkill America at the Aspen Institute.