CEO: Universities to blame for 'massive skills shortage'

Nexford University wants to help HR leaders with their recruiting efforts, and learning and development strategy

CEO: Universities to blame for 'massive skills shortage'

Everybody has a take on the Great Resignation, blaming everything from government handouts to the COVID-19 pandemic to laziness amongst young people.

Fadl Al-Tarzi attributes the historic turnover and tight labor market to education.

“Universities have been teaching stuff that’s becoming less relevant to what employers are looking for, causing a massive skills shortage,” Al-Tarzi told HRD. “Metrics that universities are using to define success, such as credit hours, have become significantly outdated. Time as a metric isn’t a good indicator of outcomes. The problem stems from the very structure of higher education, which doesn’t prioritize learner interest or metrics representative of outcomes.”

That’s why the Egyptian entrepreneur founded Nexford University, an online university tackling the global skills shortage through its AI-enabled, skills-driven curriculum. Based in Washington D.C., the platform connects learners across the world with both local and remote jobs. The university also partners with major players in the tech space, like Microsoft, IBM and LinkedIn, who provide tools, courses and programs to enrich the learning experience designed to match employers’ needs. Last June, the company closed a $10.8 million pre-Series A funding round led by Dubai-based VC Global Ventures.

“The world is moving toward a virtual talent grid,” Al-Tarzi says. “My desire is to build a business that combines social impact with financial gains. We want to enable folks to access career opportunities, as well as social and economic mobility, regardless of their gender, social class or race.”

Read more: CEO reveals the one question he asks all job candidates

Although more than 50 million Americans have quit their jobs over the past year, the labor shortage isn’t exclusive to the United States. Companies all over the world are struggling to fill positions, unable to replenish their workforce with qualified candidates. The CEO of Nexford University claims there’s a supply/demand mismatch in emerging markets. For example, Al-Tarzi says Nigeria produces about four million high school graduates a year, of which only 1.8 million apply for college and only 800,000 get in.

It's common for Nigerian banks to enroll high school grads in eight-week training programs and hire any that have performed well. So, Nexford University has partnered with Sterling Bank, a local bank in the country, to fund these students’ tuition. As they go through Nexford’s programs for the first year, they receive part-time positions at Sterling. Upon graduation, they come on board full-time.

“There’s a gap between higher education and what employers are actually looking for,” Al-Tarzi says. “Employers ultimately care whether you can apply what you know as opposed to just memorizing information. We take an innovative approach toward curriculum development, identifying a student’s goal, identifying what the courses are attempting to achieve and then prioritizing what learners are able to do as opposed to what they know.”

Earlier this year, Nexford University launched its Global Grid initiative, a global mentorship program that aims to increase awareness around the millions of jobs that are moving online, and the skills learners need to have to qualify for those jobs. The organization Nexford has carefully chosen well-known thought leaders in their fields to provide guidance and share business skills via a structured online mentorship program. The initiative is initially focused on a select number of Nexford markets, starting with North America, Africa, the Middle East and Southeast Asia.

The two traits that Al-Tarzi looks for in a mentor is expertise in a field and a desire to teach others. “Being a mentor isn’t for everyone,” he says. “In education, your ability to deliver a message is almost as important as what the message is.”

Nexford University allows HR leaders to rethink their recruitment strategies, providing a multitude of datapoints for pre-hiring purposes. Let’s say a potential employee is in a 12-month degree program. Well, HR can now hire that person at the ninth month based on the competencies already built, and then the employer can sponsor the last few months of that employee’s education. It can be an incentive for someone to join a company because Nexford University’s tuition for an MBA is $5,040.

Meanwhile, through 2025, employers can continue to make contributions of up to $5,250 per employee annually toward eligible education expenses without raising the employee's gross taxable income under Section 127 of the Internal Revenue Code. Therefore, there would be zero out-of-pocket cost for an employee at a time when student loan assistance is needed most. Additionally, the university partners with employers to upskill and reskill their teams. HR identifies where they have skill gaps within an organization and maps those gaps directly into Nexford’s programs.

“Where the future really belongs is prioritizing outcomes over output,” Al-Tarzi says. “There’s this notion that walking into the office and seeing someone there on time gives you reassurance that they’re likely doing their job. Thus, if someone arrives late, we deem them to be an inferior employee. Ultimately, employers will be forced to value results and outcomes over metrics, such as working hours or location. Employers will move toward focusing on what needs to be done, and as long as it gets done, they’ll be fine.”

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