The global economic crisis of the last five years has concentrated our collective attention, both here in the U.S. and around the world, on the need for jobs — as well as the need for strategies to support meaningful economic growth. Clearly, higher education has an important role to play here.

For example, a December 2012 study from McKinsey & Company, “Education to Employment: Designing a System that Works,” warns us that there are 75 million unemployed youth globally, and that we are facing a projected global shortfall of 85 million middle- and high-skilled workers by 2020. Furthermore, 39 percent of employers surveyed by McKinsey from around the world say that a lack of adequate skills among applicants is the reason entry-level positions go unfilled. McKinsey’s report distinguishes between successful and unsuccessful efforts around the world at addressing the skills gap, and argues that success is achieved when “education providers and employers actively step into one another’s worlds,” and when the “education-to-employment journey is treated as a continuum.”

While higher education institutions and employers have long worked side by side to better prepare and develop skilled workers and strengthen leadership en route to supporting a stronger economy, the need for closer collaboration and tighter alignment between these sectors has arguably never been more critical – particularly if we aspire to create an experience that treats the journey from education to employment as a continuum.

Inasmuch as Northeastern University, where I happen to work, is a leading experiential learning institution and recognized for its signature cooperative education program — or “co-op” — which gives students the opportunity to gain real-world, paid professional experience in the course of their studies, these are issues we think about a great deal.