WILing + Able: Addressing the Experience Gap

By Caitlin Cassie and Andrew Do
December 12, 2016

What problem are we trying to solve?

It seems simple enough – recent college and university grads finish school and want to transition into good jobs. Industry wants to hire fresh talent in order to maintain a competitive edge in today’s rapidly changing economy. However, things aren’t always as simple as they seem.

As it stands, securing full-time work upon completion of one’s post-secondary education has become increasingly difficult. In the 2010 Colleges Ontario Report, People Without Jobs, Jobs Without People, the problem was framed as a misalignment of supply and demand for skills, particularly in the science-technology-engineering-math (STEM) sectors. The report painted a picture where job seekers do not possess the education or skills for which employers are looking.

While the veracity of the “skills gap” or “skills mismatch” narrative has been increasingly called into question, attention is turning to the “experience gap”. In response to this distinct problem, policymakers, industry and academia have refocused their attention on work-integrated learning (WIL) as an integral part of the solution.

In order to understand the challenges recent grads are facing as they transition from post-secondary education to full-time work, we believe that making the distinction between the skills mismatch problem and the experience mismatch problem is necessary.

Skills Mismatch vs. Experience Mismatch: Two Problems

Although the two can converge, it is important to understand the skills mismatch problem and the experience mismatch problem as two separate issues. The approaches and solutions designed to address these issues also need to be differentiated.

For the purposes of our work, we’ve defined the two problems as follows:

Skills mismatch problem (also known as the “skills gap”) – Misalignment between the supply of skills and the demand for skills. The narrative that refers to a lack of STEM graduates, while professional vacancies continue to exist in these sectors, is still common, but contested.

Experience mismatch problem – On paper, recent grads have the requisite education and skills, but they are not job-ready. Productivity is lost during a new hire’s steep learning curve, as she shifts from theory to application and slowly integrates into the established workplace culture. Lower productivity is a risk associated with hiring recent grads.

“By understanding the experience mismatch problem, we can help new grads get job-ready” via @BrookfieldIIE.
-Click to tweet

Early Thinking + The Experience Mismatch Problem

The importance of the experience mismatch problem became clear while we were completing deep dive research and analysis on Siemens Canada’s Dual Education Program as part of a forthcoming study by the Brookfield Institute for Innovation + Entrepreneurship (BII+E). In order to complete this research, we conducted a number of semi-structured interviews with senior management at Siemens, the staff team that delivers the program, student participants, and representatives from the post-secondary institutions (PSIs) the students attend.

As a preview of our thinking, based on our forthcoming study, we believe the causes behind the experience mismatch problem are three-fold:

1. Misalignment between engineering education at PSIs, particularly four-year university programs and industry needs. Students are leaving school with strong theoretical backgrounds, but many of them lack opportunities to gain the applied and experiential knowledge that employers are seeking.

2. Students often lack the essential soft skills, such as communications, leadership, and project management skills, that enable them to integrate quickly and excel in the workplace.

3. As technology continues to advance, an increasing number of jobs will become automated, as BII+E explained in its inaugural report. Thus, as traditional entry-level jobs disappear with increasing rapidity, they will be replaced with entry-level positions that require more specialized expertise, thereby creating more barriers for recent grads who are transitioning into full-time work.

BII+E’s Interest in WIL

BII+E is uniquely positioned at the intersection of industry, academia and government, with a vision to make Canada the best place in the world to be an innovator or an entrepreneur. The education to employment pipeline, and more specifically the transition from full-time school to full-time work, is an integral component of Canada’s innovation ecosystem. Increasingly, WIL opportunities are being looked to as key to students’ successful transition into the workplace. They also encourage the increased alignment between PSIs and industry.

While the innovation challenges we face are not simple, at BII+E we look forward to shedding some light on areas where practical solutions are taking shape. We believe that talent is key to our country’s economic growth, productivity and innovation, and that WIL programs have the potential to improve employment outcomes for youth; to improve access to talent, increase productivity, and improve retention rates for participating companies; and to build a more resilient, adaptive workforce in key sectors.

For those interested in delving further into our research on WIL and Siemens Canada’s Dual Education Program, stay tuned for our forthcoming study.

For media enquiries, please contact Coralie D’Souza, Director of Communications, Events + Community Relations at the Brookfield Institute for Innovation + Entrepreneurship.

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