Colleges Should Adopt ‘Demand-Driven Education’

Undergraduate students at Penn State’s Smeal College. Photo courtesy of Smeal College of Business

We are on the “cusp” of a third wave of higher education reform, says a report released earlier this month. The Demand-Driven Report, published by Pearson. Demand-driven education, the report says, places an emphasis on making sure graduates are job-ready and in position to achieve their dream career goals. “Demand-driven education adapts to the needs of the learner and the employer,” the report reads. “It responds to signals from society to ensure alignment between desired qualifications and available training.”

The first wave, the report says, was access, or getting more students into higher education. Success — or making sure students graduate and earn degrees — was the second wave. And now, the report says, is the third wave where universities and colleges are focused more now than ever on ensuring their graduates are both job ready and prepared to seek out a rewarding career in a job market and economy in constant flux.

“Demand-driven education takes account of the emerging global economy — technology-infused, gig-oriented, industry-driven — while also striving to ensure that new graduates and lifelong learners alike have the skills required to flourish,” the report says.


The report was based on a previously published report from Pearson called The Future of Skills: Employment in 2030, original research from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and almost two dozen interviews with academic and professional career experts. Five different paths are suggested for schools to adopt the demand-driven education, ranging from developing more in-demand skills like interpersonal skills and complex thinking to continually responding to the needs of labor markets.

“In order to be successful, learners in the US and the UK will need to master an array of cross-cutting skills in interpersonal and higher-order cognitive domains,” the report reads. “These skills will form a foundation upon which they can build and rebuild the specific occupational skills that will define the jobs of the future.”

Unfortunately, the report says, these are some of the toughest skills taught in a classroom setting.

“The skills most essential to the future of work are the most difficult to impart in conventional classroom environments because little is known about how to promote their growth at wide scale,” the report says. “The most important skills are also highly contextual, meaning their development on the job will be very different from their development in class.”


The main difficulty, the report says, is the balance between more advanced interpersonal skills and critical thinking and technical skills. Those two skill sets have traditionally been thought of as existing in a vacuum. “These frameworks are wide ranging, but the constructs share many similarities, usually an emphasis on thinking critically, managing one’s own workload, working well with others, and demonstrating technological literacy,” the report says.

And while employers are valuing the 21st Century skill set more than ever, they largely share that graduates — especially at the post-graduate level — lack those specific skills they are looking for. The report put together the top ten skills that are most important to companies in the U.S. and the U.K. While many skill sets ended up on both lists, there is definitely more of social and personal skill set appreciated in the U.S. and more of a systems thinking skill set in the U.K. Judgement and decision making skills, for example, was the most important skill set in the U.K. and didn’t even make the top ten for the U.S. skill sets. Conversely, psychology is the second most important skill set for U.S. employers and not on the top ten for U.K. skill sets. Likewise, instructing is the third most important skill for the U.S. and not on the U.K.’s top ten.

“In the U.S., personal and social capabilities are particularly important,” the report says. “Workers in emergent and future occupations will need to think, work, and learn collaboratively, teaching and persuading those around them as they solve novel problems. Higher-order cognitive skills related to creativity and complex problem solving figure prominently, as well. In the U.K., skills related to systems-oriented thinking — understanding how a complex and interdependent set of phenomena operate and respond to conditions and to the environment — top the list.”


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