Closing the Skills Gap

A great piece by Jeffrey Selingo highlighting the “skills gap” (a workforce that doesn’t possess the skills to fill current jobs) and role of higher education in closing it. I would agree. In my time working on both corporate and academic settings, this gap can be seen in other ways – theory versus practicality.

Practice can be defined as the action of doing something; performance, execution. Theory can be defined as a scheme or system of ideas or statements held as an explanation or account of a group of facts or phenomena. I would argue that the key relationship (or lack thereof) between theory and practice is the gap that exists between them. There is a general disconnect, for example, between theoretical (academic) frameworks and business realities.

Practitioners take least abstract approaches and often dismiss theory as irrelevant or infeasible. When faced with a new situation, a practitioner relies on knowledge and experience. Theorists observe in order to understand the world with the goal of building an understanding of observed phenomena over time. I think this creates a strained relationship. It is easy, for example, to teach a subject like marketing theory, but its nature makes it challenging to apply, especially in a field that is very unpredictable. On the other hand, it is more challenging to teach an individual a practice (or vocation); it can be learned only through experience.

A few months back, a friend who works for Jet Propulsion Laboratories (JPL) told me of a frustrating situation he experienced working in partnership with MIT. Two teams (one JPL and one MIT) worked to develop software for a satellite project. When the teams met to discuss their ideas, he said they spent more time bickering over their respective approaches rather than their solutions.

And there starts the gap.