Matching the content, quality, cost and speed of delivery of a product or service to what the customer wants is the key for business success. This basic lesson is taught in business schools both as theory and through real-life case studies. And yet academic institutions seem to be at least partially responsible for a “skills gap” by not delivering graduates with the knowledge, skills and competencies desired by employers.
This also contributes to 7% of U.S. college graduates being unemployed and nearly 15% under-employed according to a recent article, College vs. Business Training: What Do Employers Want? ? It is an odd situation because the paying customer to the educational institution is the student, but the employer is the customer of the student’s skills as a potential employee. Perhaps the customer demand signal from employer to educator is not strong enough, or the 2-to-4 year education process cycle time creates a “batch” of skills that may not match what employers need upon graduation time. The article suggests that institutes of higher education may not even view the preparation people for the skills they need as their mission.
The head of a global education consultancy, Robert Lytle, is quoted that employers often can’t articulate what skills they want, “but they will come back to you and say critical problem-solving skills, group ability, communication skills…. That kind of reads ‘liberal arts,’ front and center.” The article also points out that employers “expect entry-level hires to arrive with their soft skills mastered” and also that firms increasingly value an employees ability to demonstrate growth and learning, even over and above graduating with the best grades from top schools.
While the article didn’t reference lean in any way, for me it raised a similar question, “Colleges vs. business training: what lean skills do employers want from their hires?” The article already identified a few of the key areas including problem solving skills, communication skills, ability to work in teams and groups, and ability to demonstrate ongoing growth and learning on the job. These are all lean culture must-haves. The last one is especially critical since lean management is not a static system to be designed, built and maintained at a high performance level, but rather something that is more organic and requiring change and adaptation. The “concrete head” with 30 years of experience doing it a way that has “always worked” and the elite college grad with the 4.0 GPA struggle equally a lean workplace if they cannot grow, learn, change.
What are some of the other skills that lean employers must have for hiring people who are ready to hit the ground running? Digging deeper into problem solving, one would hope that the new hire had a strong understanding of cause-and-effect, as well as basic statistical thinking. From a soft skills point of view there is humility, although this may be hard to teach in school. Also desired is an understanding of logistics in the broadest sense, not limited to the movement of goods but how supply-demand, push-pull, inventory-and-cash, batch-and-flow, all work together. If they had studied under professors who weren’t enamored on any particular buzzwords, all the better.
What would you add to this list of skills sought in a lean graduate?