How to Reduce the “Awareness Gap” & Help Students Market their Skills

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The skills gap is a common issue described in conversations surrounding the education space, in which employers express concerns that recent graduates do not have the prerequisite skills for today’s workplace. Recognition of the gap is especially common in discussions of soft skills, including leadership, teamwork, and problem-solving.
However, Troy Markowitz published an intriguing article in EdSurge that offers a compelling case for an alternative view of the problem that he refers to as the “Awareness Gap”. Markowitz argues that college graduates have trouble showcasing the skills that they do possess to employers. Thus, as opposed to students not having the adequate skills, the misalignment is more a function of the inability of employers to be made aware of the skills that students have developed through coursework and extracurricular activities.
If we’ve confused the skills gap with the awareness gap, the implications could be huge. Especially as 60% of employers feel that the main barrier in hiring for entry-level roles is due to the skills gap, according to a survey by PayScale. And there is no doubt that the awareness gap exists—it’s already apparent in cases of underemployment, where college graduates are working in lower-skilled jobs or even places that don’t require a college degree. The barrier to communicating skills is also detrimental to students’ future career paths. After all, most of the top in-demand jobs today didn’t even exist ten years ago. Markowitz succinctly captures the impact here: “If we’re not able to do anything about the awareness gap, today’s students will have a limited understanding of how the skills they’re acquiring in the classroom will translate and apply to the careers of tomorrow.”
The awareness gap also has significant ramifications for educators and institutions. As Wiley’s 2025: A Look into the Future of Higher Education research suggested, students will have a higher expectation for the learning journey and the subsequent skills for job acquisition. At the same time, institutions will face a stronger need to adapt to employer and workplace expectations. If the current trend towards a competency-based education continues, then it’s an increasingly important responsibility upon educators to help students signal their skills more effectively for the workforce.
Here are three strategies instructors can use to solve for the awareness gap:
  1. Bringing the vibrant real world of business into the classroom: By letting students confront real, unresolved business problems in class, the impact can be felt not only within an energized classroom but also after graduation. Group assignments present opportunities for students to work in teams while thinking critically and applying concepts they’ve learned in class to authentic business challenges. It’s also important to keep up with the rapid changes in technology and issues today, especially as traditional classroom materials can be quickly outdated. Recently, we’ve seen a shift towards experiential learning and consumption of information through bite-sized video. By practicing what’s relevant to today’s workforce, including the business challenges presented by Real Time Cases’ 40+ Partner Companies, students are training to apply what they’ve learned in class to their future careers.
  2. Establishing learning portfolios: A learning portfolio is a curated collection of student work used to share skills, competencies and experiences gained over time. This makes learning visible and connects concepts to tangible, concrete outcomes. The benefits are three-fold: to showcase transferable skills that students develop during their time at college, develop a portfolio of projects that convey their soft skills, and create a robust resume for future employment. 
  3. Encouraging pre-interview projects: This is a great way to teach students initiative and leadership skills by showing them how they can create projects of their own outside of the classroom. These projects can be to explore hobbies or gain skills, or specifically to prove to employers that they have the skills for a particular job, also known as a pre-interview project. With this assignment, the student acts if they are already in that role; for example, someone applying for a business development position may create a project in which they register people for the company’s services to show that they have what it takes to succeed.
    • For more technical skills, Github is a great site to showcase coding projects, Medium for writing, and Dribbble for design work.
If you’re curious how Real Time Cases can help you close the awareness gap, schedule a 15-minute conversation with one of our helpful representatives.

Yunzhe Zhou helps people bridge the skills gap through experiential learning – by creating 30-day implementation projects. You can check out her writings on accelerated learning and experiments on life + work here.