Institutions of higher education could soon face an existential crisis as more young people decide that college debt is too oppressive. A substantial number of them may even choose to skip the traditional college experience altogether. It might seem more appealing to get a job or start a business right after high school.

Equally problematic, many students and employers are beginning to believe that colleges fail to fully prepare students for careers. A 2013 survey conducted in part by the research firm Harris Interactive found that fewer than 40 percent of hiring professionals thought that recent college graduates were ready for positions in their chosen fields.

While these circumstances may at first appear troubling, they offer a unique opportunity for career schools to reposition themselves to appeal to more students. Here are 4 ways these schools can cater to changing student needs and build workforce prep programs of the highest quality.

1. Upgrade Career Services

To start this process, schools might strengthen their existing career services. A college's career services center could work to partner with local employers to offer specific training programs that students could complete in addition to their regular coursework. For instance, a college with a pharmacy technician program could partner with a local pharmacy to places students in an internship program while completing their students. Students would be able to learn the first-hand skills needed for success in their career feel, and be better prepared to find a full-time position once they graduate.

When staffing your career center, consider individuals who were previously hiring managers, or worked in HR at prestigious companies. Plus, career counselors must give advice that reflects the realities of today's market, rather than describing techniques that were effective 10 or 20 years ago, such as making frequent follow-up calls after an interview.

Instead, counselors should explain how to set up effective LinkedIn pages, how to network online and how to impress potential employers during interviews. Mock interviews are still extremely important, as they allow counselors to assess the interview skills of students, and provide valuable coaching opportunities.

2. Evolve According to Employer Needs

Second, schools can utilize surveys or in-person interviews to learn more about the skills that are lacking in the local workforce. Schools could then make their courses and degrees match those workforce demands. And as employers' needs evolve, schools must be quick to innovate and alter their programs. By doing so, they'd close the gap between student skills and employer expectations and needs.

According to an Accenture report, over 55% of U.S. companies struggle to fill middle-skills vacancies, with Engineering Technicians and and Nursing Assistants being among the the hardest-to-fill positions. In order to meet the upcoming market demand for these industries and others in their local communities, post-secondary programs should be actively planning on hiring new instructor and offering new certificates and degrees in these fields. Likewise, schools must continue to stay attuned to changes in industry regulations and systems that may impact their programs - such as the 2015 transition to the ICD-10 Medical coding system.

3. Don't Overlook Soft Skills Training

School faculty members ought to emphasize to students that technical knowledge isn't enough for many organizations. After all, technology changes rapidly, and the systems of tomorrow could be very different from those of today.

The National Network and Business and Industry defines a number of Common Employability Skills - soft skills that are prized by employers across all industries. These include personal skills such as integrity and adaptability, people skills like teamwork, communication, and respect, and workplace competencies including planning & organization and consumer focus.

Students can develop these skills by studying a variety of subjects and by participating in that challenge their leadership abilities. Additionally, post-secondary institutions should consider working soft-skill training into their pre-existing career preparation curriculums.

4. Incorporate Career Prep from the Start

For schools to produce career-ready students, career readiness needs to be ingrained into every aspect of the school's culture. From admissions, to faculty, to student support, everyone must be working towards the same goal of creating students who are prepared to enter their field of student upon leaving their institution.

This can start with the a school's curriculum. In addition to the technical skills that dominate most curriculums, schools should consider adding soft-skills training from early into the program. Stressing the importance of these skills early on, and then reinforcing them with interactive activities such as role playing scenarios, helps engrain the real-world importance throughout a student's time at your school. Continuing to come back to these skills and making them part of every lesson that a student takes is another way to help make sure that students are ready to face all of their professional challenges by the time they graduate.

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