Student Demand vs. Graduate Outcomes: Closing the Skills Gap

Published on Aug 8, 2023

Written by Mariana Marques

To recruit students for their courses, educational institutions need to, first and foremost, teach subjects that people are actually interested in learning. But what if your students are interested in learning skills employers are not looking for? Meeting student demand is pretty straightforward, but meeting employer demand while keeping your students happy and ensuring high recruitment levels is a different ballgame. 

This problem isn’t new, but it does become more evident in a fluctuating labour market where demand for skills changes faster than the weather (if you’re UK-based, this may ring painfully true). Educational institutions hold great power as the real connectors between talent and the workforce. 

The online education platform StudyPortal and the education consultancy NOUS collaborated with Lightcast to develop “University as Connector,” a thorough research piece investigating the pressing skills gaps across Australia, the UK, the US, and Canada - and how universities can effectively close this. In this blog, we share its key takeaways.  

Skills mismatch: a re-balancing act 

There is a very visible shortage of skills across the world. In Europe, the talent shortage is such that 59% of companies report finding it difficult to hire talent. It isn’t that employees are not skilled, or even not skilled enough - but that they don’t have the specific knowledge or qualifications employers need. So, rather than being a definite skills shortage, we are experiencing a skills mismatch. 

The growing need for digital skills took this skills mismatch one step further, making it imperative for employees to reskill and upskill themselves to meet their companies' evolving technological needs. But employees alone can only do so much. It’s up to universities to ensure that future workers are equipped with the skills employers want - and that takes a thorough understanding of the skills gaps in the country and/or region. 

Meeting industry demand: the quick and long-term wins 

It’s encouraging to see that quite a few fields of education show both high student demand and industry demand. In Australia and the UK, Business, Engineering, Computer Science & ICT are the fields of study with higher student demand and industry demand - at the top right side of the graph. These can be considered quick wins, as all factors are working in the university’s favour.  

Conversely, International Relations is one such field of study that seems to interest students, yet this interest does not map well to employer demand, which is comparatively low. While the path here is much more challenging, there is still an opportunity for educators to work with employers and other partners, enabling students to develop and demonstrate the value of their skills to employers.

University As Connector, Nous (2023) using Lightcast and Study Portals data.

The US shows similar figures as Australia and the UK - with Business and Computer Science & ICT as the top fields and International Relations and Environmental Management being the lowest in employer demand. Employer demand for Environmental Management seems to be low across Australia, the US, and Canada, which is perhaps surprising considering their governments' efforts to build greener economies.

University As Connector, Nous (2023) using Lightcast and Study Portals data.

Knowing industry demand in your country, you can revisit your existing courses and ensure that your students are taught the skills employers need, effectively helping to close skills gaps. As we mentioned earlier, skills demand changes rapidly, so you have to broaden your analysis to include static figures of current demand and skills trends over the years. With Lightcast, by understanding the growing and emerging skills, you can incorporate these skills into your current courses, and so make them as future-proof as it is possible to be in the absence of a skills crystal ball.

For this analysis by Nous, student demand data was sourced from Studyportals, based on web hits for study in each field of education and country studied. Industry demand data, including qualification requirements, was sourced from Lightcast Job Postings data.

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Meeting student demand: where to recruit 

Once you know where employer demand lies, it’s essential to consider the other side of the coin and work backward to address student recruitment. How do you deal with fields of study highly sought-after by employers in your region or country but have little to no traction among learners? One way to solve this is to look at interest across the globe - not just in your country - and invest in marketing your courses for international students. 

Consider the UK, for instance. The graph below shows UK universities' global demand for engineering and technology degrees, with countries like India, Pakistan, Nigeria, and Iran showing the highest student interest. Check out the full report to see the maps showing global demand for engineering and technology degrees across Canadian, Australian, and American universities.  

University As Connector, Nous (2023) using Lightcast and Study Portals data.

Closing the gap between student and industry demand 

When building a house, you can’t start by building the roof. Educational institutions are the foundation of the house - the stepping stone for students to move into the real world of work. And this stone needs to be rock solid. Meeting industry needs is crucial to close the gap between employer and student demand. Still, this mission comes with other university-wide benefits: from increasing employability rates for your students to establishing or strengthening partnerships with businesses and organisations - placing your university at the centre of your region’s or nation’s economic growth. Plus, analysing and implementing this data in your courses and recruitment strategies enables you to attract students worldwide. Check out our recent blog to explore the benefits of LMI for universities in more detail. 

If you’re interested in exploring Lightcast’s unparalleled data or have any questions or queries on using labour market data in your institution, contact our team below. 

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