You are on page 1of 14


The industrial world and the academic world have grown far apart. The distance
between them is primarily a result of different goals and different means of support. While on
one side we have a large stock of engineers, we have not been able to derive the full
economic benefit from this talent base because of the mismatch between the industry needs
and the university output. Regardless of the large number of universities, only a small of
graduates are considered employable by a rapidly growing industry. The proper utilization of
our intellectual capital could be a major driver for growth and it is important for Nigerias
economy. The purpose of this paper is to understand the problem, identify the employability
skills required by engineering graduates and assess how there can be a value creation through
refocusing the engineering curriculum and also examine some examples of successful
Industry-university partnerships.

Key-Words: higher education, academic research, business community, lifelong learning,

strategic partnership, human capital, skills, employability

Education is widely regarded as the most important factor contributing to social, political,
cultural and economic transformation of a nation. The social sector of a country namely
health, rural development, education and employment generation has assumed great
significance in the new economic regime. Human capital is one of the most important assets
of a country and a key determinant of a nations economic performance. Adam smith (1776)
pointed out that a man educated at the expense of much labor and time, may be compared to
one of those expensive machines classical economists observed that expenditure on

education could be regarded as a form of investment which promises future benefits. The
strength of a country is directly dependent on its intellectual and skillful citizens. This
invariably means that education is an essential tool for achieving sustainability. Only a
quality future human capital can envision development of its nation to meet the needs of the
present without compromising the ability of the future generations to meet their own needs.
Without quality human capital, a nation will be weak as there is no human factor to embark
on initiatives and perspectives. A quality human capital comes from a quality education
process. A carefully designed and well planned education system is critical to developing
such human capital. Thus, institutions of higher learning play a very important role and the
teaching and learning processes in institutions of higher learning should provide such
knowledge and skills to future graduates.
Universities everywhere are being forced to carefully reconsider their role in society
and to evaluate the relationships with their various constituencies, stakeholders and
communities. Universities are increasingly expected to assume a third mission and to engage
in interactions with industrial and regional partners. While incentive schemes and
government programs try to encourage universities to reach out more to external
communities, some important barriers to such linkages still remain. To fulfill their obligation
towards being a socially accountable institution, universities will have to carefully select their
stakeholders and identify the right degree of differentiation. For the university, thinking in
terms of partnerships has important implications for its governance and accountability
arrangements. In order to further explore some of these concepts and to empirically
investigate the tendencies suggested here, this paper proposes a research agenda for tackling
the emerging issues of governance, stakeholder management and interaction of higher
education with society.

Over the last decade and a half, the falling of barriers to international trade and
investment has led to a more integrated and interdependent framework of international
business. Employers today, as a result, operate in an environment that demands new and
constantly developing skills to retain global competitiveness.


Higher Education is a key element in the golden triangle which also includes
academic research and business community. The Lisbon strategy mentions that the
universities must consider the employability of their graduates, equip them with the skills for
public and private sectors, and ensure that the unemployed can improve their skills for work.
Also in the domain of research, universities are essential to create, improve and share
knowledge. In this context the employability and innovation require commitment.
Universities must foster and encourage entrepreneurship. One way to achieve this is through
cooperation with businesses. Universities must set up structures for lifelong learning.
Companies must be proactive in the cooperation process, and one key to achieve this
cooperation is mobility. For students themselves, mobility and business cooperation ensure
that they develop a more entrepreneurial mindset. The challenges facing the relationship
between industry and higher education in an adverse economic climate have revealed several
important issues:

Curriculum development as a domain to foster employability and a more entrepreneurial

mindset among graduates.

Entrepreneurship, as an aspect of both, institutional activity and the curriculum, with the
assistance and guidance of the business community.

Continuing education/Lifelong Learning and the promotion of university-business

partnership in the field of provision of training/retraining programs.

Knowledge Transfer, concerning methods and models of the translation of knowledge

from the research mode to the enterprise mode as innovation.

Development of mobility, including student mobility, but also mobility of researchers and
teaching staff, between academia and businesses, and vice versa.

PLATE 1: Figure showing the knowledge triangle.


The term employability skills refers to those skills required to acquire and retain a
job. In the past, employability skills were considered to be primarily of a vocational or jobspecific nature; they were not thought to include the academic skills most commonly taught
in the schools. Current thinking, however, has broadened the definition of employability
skills to include not only many foundational academic skills, but also a variety of attitudes

and habits. These transferable skills include the ability to solve complex, multidisciplinary
problems, work successfully in teams, exhibit effective oral and written communication
skills, and practice good interpersonal skills (Schmidt, 1999). In fact, in recent usage, the
term employability skills is often used to describe the preparation or foundational skills
upon which a person must build job-specific skills (i.e., those that are unique to specific
jobs). Among these foundational skills are those which relate to communication, personal and
interpersonal relationships, problem solving, and management of organizational processes
(Lankard, 1990). Employability skills in this sense are valued because they apply to many
jobs and so can support common preparation to meet the needs of many different
occupations. Robinson (2000) defined employability skills as those basic skills necessary for
getting, keeping, and doing well on a job. Employability skills are teachable (Lorraine,
2007) and transferable skills (Yorke, 2006). Employability has been defined as a set of
achievementsskills, understandings, and personal attributesthat make graduates more
likely to gain employability and be successful in their chosen occupations by the
Engineering Subject Centre of the UK Higher Education Academy.
In the next two decades, almost two billion additional people are expected to populate
the Earth, 95 percent of them in developing or underdeveloped countries (Bartlett, 1998).
This growth will create unprecedented demands for energy, food, land, water, transportation,









telecommunication, and infrastructure. The role of engineers will be critical in fulfilling those
demands at various scales, ranging from remote small communities to large urban areas
(megacities), mostly in the developing world (United Nations, 1998). If engineers are not
ready to fulfill such demands, who will? As George Bugliarello (1999) has stated, the
emergence of large urban areas is likely to affect the future prosperity and stability of the
entire world. Today, it is estimated that between 835 million and 2 billion people live in some

type of city slum and that the urban share of the worlds extreme poverty is about 25 percent
(United Nations, 2001).
The American Society for Training and Development (ASTD) defines a skills gap as
a significant gap between an organizations current capabilities and the skills it needs to
achieve its goals. It is the point at which an organization can no longer grow or remain
competitive because it cannot fill critical jobs with employees who have the right knowledge,
skills, and abilities. It is not just individual organizations or sectors that are feeling the
consequences of the skills gap. Communities, states, regions, and entire nations pay a heavy
price when they cannot find or equip workers with the right skills for critical jobs. The
McKinsey Global Institute June 2012 report, the world at work: Jobs, pay, and skills for 3.5
billion people, predicts a potential global shortage of 38 to 40 million high-skills workers in
2020 (13 percent of the demand for such workers) and 45 million middle-skills workers (15
percent of the demand). Low-skills workers will be in least demand at 10 percent, a shortage
of 90 to 95 million.
For instance, although India's higher education system contributes about 350,000
engineers and 2.5 million university graduates annually to our workforce, yet at any given
time about 5 million graduates remain unemployed. A survey done by McKinsey Global
Institute shows multinationals find only 25 percent of Indian engineers employable and a
NASSCOM report foresees shortage of 500,000 knowledge workers by 2010. The U R Rao
Committee has projected that India needs well over 10,000 PhDs and twice as many M Tech
degree holders for meeting its huge research and development needs, but India produce
barely 400 engineering PhDs a year. In Nigeria one would find that less than 10% of its
engineering graduates of the higher institutions are found employable by multinationals.
In the United States, the state of employment continues to play a major role in the
United States skills scene. At 8.3 percent in July 2012, the unemployment rate has gradually

after hitting 10 percent in October 2009. While the number of unemployed workers remains
fairly high, the number of job openings is on the rise, with 3.8 million in June 2012,
compared to 3.1 million in June 2011. Despite a large pool of unemployed workers,
employers continue to struggle to find skilled talent to fill the growing number of job
openings in the country. A recent survey of ASTD members supports this trend: 84 percent of
respondents indicate that there is a skills gap in their organization now, up from 79 percent in
2009 when ASTD conducted the same survey. Almost 10 percent of respondents dont know
whether there is a skills gap in their organization now.
There is a huge skills gap in the high skills STEM fields (science, technology,
engineering and mathematics).Take the nuclear industry, for example. Cumulative installed
nuclear capacity worldwide is expected to increase at a compound annual growth rate of 3
percent from 2011 to 2020. Yet a mass of retiring employees, combined with the young
workforces waning interest in the field and a deficit of training programs in general, have
contributed to the industrys growing skills gap.
Information technology is another evolving high-skills field that needs qualified
workers to keep pace with its ongoing change. According to CompTIA, more than 15 million
businesses rate the aggregate skill levels of their IT staff as less than optimal, and 93 percent
of employers indicate that there is an overall skills gap among employees. The dynamic
nature of the IT space is a primary cause of talent shortages, as well as a lack of resources for
professional development.
The impact of the skills gap is far reaching and varied, with effects on global
economics, human capital development, and business performance. In advanced economies,
skill imbalances will lead to more long-term and permanent joblessness and a greater
polarization of incomes between high- and low-skilled workers. Developing economies likely
will slow their climb into higher value-added industries and see millions of low-skilled

workers trapped in subsistence agriculture or urban poverty. As far as bottom-line impact,

many industries feel the effects of a skills shortage in similar ways. CompTIAs State of the
IT Skills Gap report notes that 80 percent of information technology employers indicate that
their industrys skills gaps affect at least one business area, such as staff productivity (41
percent), customer service/engagement (32 percent), and security (31 percent). Workforce
shortages and skills deficiencies in production manufacturing roles are significantly impeding
the sectors ability to expand operations and improve productivity.


Whereas the higher education sector within engineering has seen a rapid growth in
recent years (thanks to the private sector universities and the aggressive promotion of ICT
related technologies by the government), these educational degree programs are being
developed on the western model of university degrees in engineering. Most of the faculties
involved in curriculum development as well as the regulators of such activities are governed
by these foreign qualified decision makers. Blindly following the western models cannot be
an acceptable approach in the long run in our local settings. As this would very severely
widen the gap between the requirements of the related industry and the graduating students,
and when these technically trained graduates do not find job opportunities which match their
skill set, they would start getting frustrated and thus, their potential would go wasted.
Another way towards closing the gap are steps in developing University-Industry
Liaison offices within the universities engineering departments of higher learning. These
offices should proactively participate in the industrial needs and try to align their
undergraduate a nd graduate programs according to those needs. The university requires to
upgrade and update their curriculum on a continuous basis, introducing elective specialized
courses in their degree programs which are relevant to the needs of the local telecom sector.

Courses need be continuously re-designed and revised in a very intelligent manner so as to

integrate the latest technologies and trends relevant to the basics of those courses in particular
relevance to the needs of the expanding telecom sector. The universities also need to invite
senior people from the industry to teach some elective specialized courses or at least provide
short seminars or workshop talks for the benefit of the students. For their long-term
sustainability, the universities should form small research groups headed by senior academics
which try to facilitate the research and development needs of the local telecom industry and
interact with the industry on a regular basis. To cater the needs of the engineering sector in a
way to keep pace with international developments, it requires both the top level academic
community and the industrial spear-heads within the engineering sector to do some visionary
thinking and planning which is beyond their day-to-day management tasks in order to bring
them together. This approach would be highly beneficial for both and will provide low-cost
solutions to the developing needs of the engineering sector.
There is also a dire need for the higher education in engineering to evolve in a manner
that benefits both the graduating students and the engineering industry. Whereas, the current
industry is in principle concentrating on service provision, highly skilled graduates who
have the capacity to think and innovate (when having acquired a place of respectable stability
within their organization) can start some preliminary research and development units within
their organizations. Such units can collaborate with research groups at the institutes of higher
learning and can thus together contribute to the knowledge based economy.
Soft Skills have to be embedded in the teaching and learning activities across the
curriculum by implementing activities such as questioning, class discussion, brain storming,
team work, presentation, role play and simulation, task/project, field work and site visits. In
general, the development of soft skills using the embedded model requires the expertise of
the lecturers to use the various teaching strategies and methods that are entirely student-

centered. It also involves active teaching and learning and students should participate actively
in the activities. Some of the appropriate strategies and methods that are practical include
learning by questioning, cooperative learning, problem-based learning (PBL) and e-learning.
Higher educational institutions suffer from stifling control from governments and other
regulating bodies. In comparison, countries like China, Australia and Singapore are allowing
freedom to their educational institutions due to which there is a large scale skill development
taking place. We need to advocate more autonomy and set up Special Education Zone.
The Federal Ministry of Education, with the support of the IT industry, should
develop an IT Workforce Development initiative, to engage academia on a sustained basis
through faculty development programs, mentorship of colleges, curriculum updates and
regular industry-academia interface. Another important area that industry aims to address
through such initiatives is the development of soft skills -especially in communication and
presentation. It must also explore the possibility of 2-3 month courses in a finishing school
for IT professionals. This will add 20-25 percent people to the employable pool. This
finishing school should make certification available for entry-level employees. The
objective of this is to test candidates on seven identified basic skills required of BPO
employees. These include keyboard, communication, articulation and presentation, in
addition to teamwork. But all these initiatives are limited to IT industry. Similar models of
training need to be extended to other branches and management graduates.
The Government has an enormous role to play by making policy decisions with a
view to:

Keep the ship steady. Policymakers need to ensure a predictable, stable environment
of funding and regulation for long-term strategic partnerships to thrive.

Give universities the autonomy to operate effectively, and form partnerships. The
best people to decide a universitys strategy are its own board and faculty heads, not


government ministries. Without freedom to operate with appropriate checks and

balances they cannot form effective partnerships.

Reward activist, collaborative universities and encourage more to be that way.

Funding incentives work: government policy should reward, or at least not
discourage, universities and companies that form strong partnerships. New
government programmes, such as proposed by the EU and some national
governments, should entice others to take the same step.

Help universities strive for excellence. Companies want to work with the best and
so Europe must take care always to feed and promote its best universities, in order
that more job-creating partnerships can be formed.


The primary focus of most industry-university collaborations is joint research, but
many have an impact on teaching and learning that develops naturally out of the partnership.
Professors join a project inside the company and researchers agree to lecture, creating a
fruitful ongoing exchange that helps modernize curricula.
In 2008 Microsoft, Cisco and Intel agreed to launch an industry-university partnership
with the University of Melbourne that set out to transform education for the 21st century.
Their goal was to have a game-changing impact by first identifying the higher-order skills
that students need for success in schools and in the workforce and then transforming the
assessment and teaching of these 21st-century skills. The partnership, called ATC21S
Assessment and Teaching of 21st Century Skills focuses on the critical skill sets for a
global knowledge economy. Microsoft, Cisco and Intel have all had long-running individual
programmes to boost skills in the classroom, but none felt as if they were having enough


impact. Moreover education has been slow to respond and to take up the challenge of the
assessment and teaching of new 21st century skills.
To tackle the task, the core partners formed an executive board to manage a three-year
multi-stakeholder effort, involving some 250 academics and multilateral institutions
including the OECD and UNESCO. The partnership identified two discrete skill sets:
collaborative problem-solving and digital literacy. And the three-year research effort
produced knowledge, tool sets and common standards that transfer across borders. This
multi-stakeholder industry-university partnership overcame general skepticism that
collaborative problem-solving skills and digital literacy could be accurately measured. It
managed a highly complex global academic research effort across 60 research institutions to
successfully develop a new set of tools (computer-based collaboration and problem-solving)
to assess skills that will form the basis of new curricula. Cost of project $2.5-$3 million
(additional resources were contributed by the many academic and multilateral organization
partners). The assessment tools present complex, multi-step, cognitively challenging
problems to be solved in real time by pairs of students who communicate via computers to
arrive at a solution. The computer-based program then assesses how each of these students
ATC21S has played an essential pathfinder role to move the assessment agenda
forward. It fills a critical gap between existing basic research on assessment design and
methodologies, on the one hand, and the implementation of large-scale assessments that
provide reliable data at reasonable cost, on the other. Its latest venture, the piloting of tasks to
assess collaborative problem-solving skills, provides important insights for OECDs efforts to
broaden future PISA assessments to encompass interpersonal skill dimensions. As a result of
this innovative breakthrough, six countries (Australia, Costa Rica, Finland, the Netherlands,


Singapore, and the United States) had piloted the assessment skills in cognitive labs on 5000
students as fieldwork trials.

Human resources, in terms of quality and quantity, have the potentials to be Nigerias
biggest assets. A favorable demographic structure (with more than 50 percent of the
population below 25 years of age) adds to this advantage. However, to capitalize fully on this
opportunity and not face the possibility of a skills-shortage, it is essential to gear up the
education system through innovative initiatives.

1. American Society for Training & Development (2012), Bridging the Skill Gap.
2. Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce & Industry (2010), Industry Academia
Convergence Bridging the Skill Gap.
3. Brandusa Prepelita-Raileanu, Oana Maria Pastae (2011), Bridging the Gap between
Higher Education, Academic Research and Romanian Business Community.
4. I. Padmini (2012), Education Vs Employability- the Need to Bridge the Skills Gap
among the Engineering and Management Graduates in Andhra Pradesh.
5. Sajid Sheikh Muhammad, Muhammad Aurangzeb, Imtiaz Tarique (2009), Bridging the
gap between higher education and the Telecommunications Engineering Sector.
6. Science|Business Innovation Board AISBL (2012), Making industry-university
partnerships work, Lessons from successful collaborations.
7. Lokesh Mehra, Bridging the skills gap with Industry: Academia partnerships.