Emsi: Top Tips for Using the Language of Skills
Job postings outline the skills companies demand. Job hunters create resumes to showcase their strengths and talents. Colleges tout the concepts students learn in their programs. In today’s labor market, businesses, job seekers and educators are all talking about the need for a specific set of attributes, but they don’t have an aligned way to describe them.
However, according to labor-market data firm Emsi, if businesses, job seekers and universities adopt a common language of skills, they can better address what enterprises need, what students want to learn and what makes education relevant.
“Skills are important because they are the fundamental element of work,” said Rob Sentz, Emsi’s chief innovation officer. “By viewing academic programs through the same lens, institutions can join more and more conversations.”
How Skills Show Up in the Market
Colleges and universities can use skills as an additional way to describe their curriculums by understanding how skills show up in the labor market. As an Emsi partner, UW Continuum College has access to data sets about skills drawn from the latest job postings, resumes and online profiles, higher education, federal reports and labor markets in all 50 U.S. states.
For example, Sentz said, program leaders can research what skills are “sought versus taught” — that is, skills that employers need and job seekers want, compared with the skills students learn through in a particular course or program.
Gaps between the two types of skillsets could indicate an opportunity to update how programs are described to speak more clearly to students and employers. Or leaders might find that the time is right to update courses or offer skill-specific credentials, Sentz said.
How to “skillify” learning programs
Higher education can quickly use skills-related insights to speak more clearly to students and employers, Sentz said. Here are a few tips for you to think about as you craft program curriculums and descriptions.
“Skillify” program descriptions. You’re already teaching in-demand skills, Sentz said, but perhaps a program uses different words to talk about those skills. Clear up misunderstandings by analyzing the language used to describe a program, then extract the skill-related terms and consider implementing them in your curriculum description. The intent isn’t to change the curriculum, but to help incorporate terms employers are using.
Engage employers. Consider talking in terms of skills when collaborating with regional businesses and industry leaders. Scan job postings and stay tuned in to how employers describe the skillsets they want. Then, Sentz said, it becomes easier to show why learning programs are valuable.
“Instead of asking, ‘Microsoft, what do you need?’” Sentz said, “It’s like saying, ‘Microsoft, we see that you need Power BI and Tableau. And we’re teaching that. Would you like to talk about it?”
Market programs to students. Try using skills-focused marketing to demonstrate to students the value of their education for career advancement, especially returning adult learners. Go beyond looking at job titles or occupations, Sentz said. Full job postings include the technical and soft skills that employers need in workers across the market, and those are the skills that students learn in courses, he said.
“Students want work-relevant skills,” Sentz said. “You’re providing skills that have a broader base — which means your program is more relevant.”
Enrollment coaches can also use analytics to help students identify skills they don’t yet have, then guide them to programs that fill in the gaps, Sentz said.
Equip students to market themselves. When learning programs use the language of skills, graduates can speak the same language as they go out and showcase their hard-earned credentials — and why their new skills matter.
“When you make a resume or a profile, you put a lot of information in it about your skills,” Sentz said. “You write your job title, but the thing that’s more interesting about it is what you say you’re able to do.”