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Minding the gap?: Ontario postsecondary students’ perceptions on the state of their skills

The Government of Ontario purchased a blanket, three-year licence to Lynda.com to provide postsecondary students with free access to the skills-focused, online learning platform. The Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario (HEQCO) and eCampusOntario partnered to evaluate the utility of this investment, with a particular focus on whether and how Lynda.com can help address perceived skills gaps among Ontario college and university students. As a first step in this multi-year evaluation, we sought to understand student perceptions of the state of their skills and their appetite for online skills development. We surveyed 6,360 Ontario postsecondary students and conducted three in-person focus groups. Students participating in both the survey and focus groups believe they are developing strength in transferable skills like critical thinking, work ethic, communications and organization/time management, along with industry-specific skills through their postsecondary experience, and they anticipate these skills will be needed in their chosen careers. Survey results suggest students are less certain that professional skills like data analysis, financial literacy and IT skills will be necessary in the workplace, though both focus group participants and survey respondents anticipate business etiquette (i.e., e-mailing and networking skills) will be in demand upon graduation. Survey responses suggest that students perceive a gap between the skills they will need for their future careers and the skills they are developing while in university or college. The largest gaps identified are in business etiquette, leadership, teamwork and creative/innovative thinking skills. Focus group participants affirmed the perception that there is a gap between skill levels resulting from postsecondary education and skill levels required for successful employment. Survey respondents and focus group participants demonstrated an openness to strengthening their skills using online educational videos, including those on Lynda.com; however, they are most likely to use Lynda.com to develop those skills which they already perceive to be developing during postsecondary. There is less interest in using Lynda.com to address perceived skills deficits in areas like leadership, teamwork and business etiquette.