Employers now face a U.S. job market where over 6 million jobs are unfilled, and where higher education is not delivering graduates with the skillsets companies want.

In part, this skills gap is due to the disconnect that occurs between higher education, which maintains a teaching approach that is more cerebral and theoretical than practical and applicable to real world problems. In other cases, it is industry’s inability to recognize (and commit budget to) training employees and new hires in new skills.

SEE: Tech talent gaps are getting worse; here’s how your business can avoid the challenge (TechRepublic)

This places IT managers in a quandary when it comes to delivering new projects on time, because they don’t have the bench strength to deploy top performers on every project that needs them. Consequently, projects sit, and businesses fume.

“Business and industry tends to sit on the sidelines as an observer and then as a critic when they don’t get what they want,” said Noel Ginsburg, founder of apprenticeship and job-training program CareerWise Colorado told PBS NewsHour.

Ginsburg said that businesses need to directly engage with higher education to ensure that students are taught the right skills–and I agree.

But to do this, businesses have to figure out how to effectively engage with institutions of higher learning to ensure that curricula and courses are calibrated to the skills that companies need.

Most IT managers and executives can learn to effectively collaborate with universities, if they are motivated to do so, and want to assume an active role in building IT bench strength.

Here are some tips:

1. Sign up as a university partner in education

Universities actively monitor their success in placing new graduates into jobs, so they know that a relevant curriculum is paramount. Consequently, many have initiated business partnership programs where they invite local companies to participate with them. If local universities in your area have these programs, volunteer to participate. If they don’t, suggest that they start one.

SEE: The state of women in computer science: An investigative report (TechRepublic)

2. Join the curriculum advisory group

Many companies opt to join university business partner programs, but only a handful want to make the time commitment to serve on the curriculum advisory committee. Being on this committee gives you and your company enormous influence in the program design for a data analyst or a software developer–so invest the time.

3. Lend your top people as guest lecturers in classrooms

University professors can come up short when it comes to substantial experience in industry. This is why IT practitioners from companies are enthusiastically welcomed into classrooms as guest lecturers. By availing some of your top people for lecture (yes, these are the same people you need on your projects), you get your company brand established with students and improve your odds of securing the best talent.

4. Sponsor internships

You can further promote your company’s brand by sponsoring internships that students can earn school credit for. Most companies offering internships in IT engage students in short-term projects that don’t have tight deadlines, but that can use some extra help. The projects give students on-the-job experience. By sponsoring internships, you and your staff also get to know the students firsthand. This puts you in the best position to recruit top talent as students graduate.

SEE: How to build a successful developer career (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

5. Participate in job fairs

Most schools sponsor job fairs. You should plan to participate–and to also bring along an HR rep. This is a great way to meet students, acquaint them with your company and why it is a great place to work– and recruit new employees.

6. Donate to colleges and universities

Schools constantly struggle with budgetary and resource constraints, so if your company has technology it can donate, this can really help. The technology can help students progress in their studies. It can also train them for your particular IT environment and the technology it uses.

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