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67% of Business Leaders Don’t Think the Current Higher Education System Delivers the Skills Needed for the Workforce of Tomorrow

In a new survey, 58% of business leaders said they acquired their most valuable skills in the workplace, while only 27% said during their degree studies

A new report from Multiverse reveals that the majority (67%) of business leaders don’t think higher education provides the skills needed for the workforce of tomorrow.

Surveying 1,200 business leaders, the report uncovers how businesses view the value of on-the-job learning and calls on companies to reassess their hiring and talent plans. The vast majority (70%) of respondents said that learning on the job was the most effective way to develop workforce skills. Despite this finding, almost half (48%) of respondents revealed that, when recruiting candidates for entry-level positions, their company still has degree requirements.

Euan Blair, CEO of Multiverse, said:

“The university system is far removed from the realities of the workplace and there’s little to no correlation between academic grades and job performance. Yet, many businesses still require a degree to open the door to the best jobs.

“We need to completely rethink our relationship with education. To keep up with the rapidly accelerating pace of technological change, the idea that a three or four-year degree is enough education for a three or four-decade career has passed.

“The best preparation for the workforce will increasingly come from applied learning, delivered on the job. Instead of relying chiefly on the higher education system, businesses should prioritize apprenticeships and training programs that run throughout someone’s career. The future of learning is working.

“This will be key to unlocking business and economic potential, and creating a much more diverse group of future leaders.”

On-the-job learning is critical to long-term success

Business leaders feel they learned more during their first two years in the workforce than from their higher education experience. Respondents cited that the top workforce-acquired skills were: technical/practical skills related to their field (53%), people management (55%), and project management (50%). Additionally, 40% said they learned more about critical thinking, and 48% said they learned more about time management during the first two years in the workplace, compared to 26% and 21% who said the same for their higher education experience, respectively.

Further supporting the idea that higher education is not required for a successful employee, leaders are twice as likely to prioritize durable skills over higher education achievements when assessing applicants for entry-level roles. When asked to rank what factors are the best indicators of the future potential of an entry-level candidate with no prior professional work experience, evidence of soft skills (22%) and understanding of the company’s field (20%) were more likely to be ranked as the most important factor than options such as grades during degree studies (9%) and results on technical aptitude tests (10%).

Traditional education routes fall short of delivering workforce-ready employees

Business leaders who were surveyed believe graduates are not work-ready from day one, citing that new hires typically require an average of 11 months of on-the-job training before they become fully effective in their role. This begs the question: how much does a degree actually prepare young people to enter the workforce effectively?

Of those who said the current higher education system is not well suited to deliver the skills needed for the workforce of tomorrow, the top reasons were: lack of real workforce training or experience (43%), curriculums not sufficiently teaching soft skills – e.g. teamwork, communication, and leadership (43%) and a lack of opportunities for learners to apply skills in context (35%).

When asked to rank which option provides learners with the highest number of required skills, 50% ranked apprenticeships first, followed by a university degree (28%) and a bootcamp/short-form training course (21%).

This study was conducted in partnership with Stack, an independent specialist for market research. To download the full report, visit here.

Methodology

On behalf of Multiverse, Stack Data Strategy conducted 1,200 online interviews with business leaders across the US and the UK between March 22 and March 29, 2023. Overall, 600 US leaders and 600 UK leaders were interviewed. The mentioned results of the analysis are unweighted.