A recent study from the Association of American Colleges and Universities reports that 60% of employers don’t believe college graduates are prepared to succeed in entry-level positions.
How we can better bridge the technology gap between what institutions are teaching and what employers are expecting?
Bridging the Technology Gap Between School and Work
“It’s been a while since I graduated,” Jennifer said, “but I do remember that feeling, where I felt like I was super smart, I could conquer the world.”
Jennifer graduated with a master’s degree in accounting, so she jumped into a Big Six public accounting firm.
“My first few days out there,” she said, “they did great in training me, but what I quickly realized is I knew a lot of theory but I didn’t know how to do it. I knew what a debit and a credit was in accounting speak, but how did I document that? How did I talk to a client? How did I engage in conversation?”
Clearly, there was a disconnect between the knowledge and the theory she had learned in school and how to execute it in the real world.
Now, an accounting lecturer in the Naveen Jindal School of Management at UT Dallas, Jennifer is just starting her tenth academic year with the school. She remembers what being a new graduate was like, though, and is determined to help her students better bridge the gap between the university and the work world.
Bridging Higher Education Theory with Practical Application
Accounting students have to do a lot of transactional entry work. Whether they become an audit professional, a tax professional, or even just doing bookkeeping or accounting work, they’re entering and reviewing transactions from the minute they jump into a job.
Up to this point, however, their only experience with that work has been on paper.
“So, my goal when I started teaching,” Jennifer said, “was to make sure they at least knew how to make a journal entry in a computer system.”
About four or five years ago, Jennifer partnered with Intuit Education, which provided technology and resources for her class. Throughout the semester now, the students learn how to use QuickBooks, an accounting software package.
“In using that package,” Jennifer told us, “they’re really putting the pieces together in their accounting coursework. My favorite part is watching the light bulb come on.”
Students might’ve learned how to enter a transaction in class, but now they’re making that link to prior courses where they had learned about what it meant and how it worked.
“It’s really neat to see them put all those pieces together,” Jennifer said.
The students love the lightbulb effect, too.
The hands-on component of the program gives students a big dose of confidence. They get to go into a job and know that they can contribute from day one.
Many businesses, especially small businesses, use QuickBooks. Even if they don’t use this specific tool, however, they employ some other accounting software package. And the students know from the first day that they’re not going to break it.”
As Jennifer said, “They at least can be successful until they get their hands around exactly what the company is doing.”
Bridging Potential Technology or Hard Skill Gaps
Clearly, the bootcamp idea has potentital far beyond accounting. How can professors and leaders use this idea to bridge the gap in technology or other hard skills?
“It’s just a matter of jumping in,” Jennifer said.
You don’t need an entire course in software. Just start introducing students to the fact that there is this software available. If you pick a software that a lot of businesses or companies in your industry use, the students will feel more confident. Even if it’s not the exact one that they need to know, there are almost certainly a lot of similarities.
“That’s what I find in accounting,” Jennifer told us. “If it’s two weeks or two months or an entire semester for a course, any little bit helps. I find these students today, they are super technology savvy and … they’re not afraid to try something new.”
In today’s university setting, an instructor can walk into class and say, “I may not know this software perfectly, but we’re going to learn it together. Let’s see what’s going on.”
That approach gifts the students with the ability to troubleshoot. They learn how to dive in to a new system in order to uncover, investigate, and find answers — all skills that employers find valuable.
Advice for Institutions Investigating the Bootcamp Model
“I would encourage you to reach out to advisory board members or former students and survey them,” Jennifer said when we asked her how other universities could employ the bootcamp model. “Ask the question: ‘When we graduate a student with this degree, what skill sets would you expect them to have and how can we accomplish that?”
Is asking for advice from advisors and alumni enough?
“I think that resource is going to be an amazing eye-opener,” Jennifer said, “and you can take those pieces and put them into your classrooms.”
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