By Sonja Johnston

The “skills gap” (e.g., Lapointe & Turner, 2020; Mishra et al., 2019; RBC, 2019), or the misalignment of graduate capability with employer expectations, comes back to higher education to renovate education outcomes to align to industry desires for skill competency. However, this moving target of desirable skills in a tumultuous landscape for employment makes hitting the target nearly impossible. The literature in this space has been growing for decades, but the COVID-19 pandemic brought the challenge centre stage, as economic recovery will be directly affected by the ability of the workforce to adapt and innovate. 

Solutions to close the gap have focused on supporting students to acquire skills as directed by industry insights and hiring needs. What if the narrative was reframed to explore collaborative and generative learning experiences that are co-created by industry partners and soon-to-be graduates?  

One such example features the open learning partnership with e-commerce software leader Shopify (Shopify Open Learning, n.d.). This multinational, publicly traded, Canadian firm “is a leading provider of essential internet infrastructure for commerce, offering trusted tools to start, grow, market, and manage a retail business of any size” (Shopify Company Info, n.d.). Shopify’s open learning partnership allows higher-education programs to implement authentic learning experiences in curriculum by allowing students to create fully functional Shopify stores. Approved courses can utilize access to rewarding Shopify-based activities and students can earn digital badges to recognize their achievements in addition to the course credit.  

During the pandemic, businesses were affected by health restrictions and forced to consider how they engaged with customers. As the Shopify platform evolved, students were able to learn about business demands and pivots in real time. Graduates enter the workplace with an authentic and experiential view of store design and strategic customer experience considerations. Shopify gains client insights from the students and an educated base of graduates ready to hit the ground running as entrepreneurs and employees. 

This open (platform) relationship is an exchange of insight, expertise, current operations, feedback and authentic learning with no financial obligation to higher education. This iterative feedback loop functions differently than industry just providing insights on skills that are desired. The use of platforms provides authentic and experiential learning with the value-added opportunity for micro credentialling (i.e. digital badges). The win for all involved stakeholders is visible, and can pivot as the environment requires. The invitation for industry leaders to consider open relationships with higher education is on the table for the taking! 

Disclaimer: I am a graduate student in educational research examining models for graduate workplace readiness. As a post-secondary instructor, I use this open platform in an entrepreneurship course. I am not compensated in any way from Shopify. I wish to acknowledge credit for the pioneering of this Open Learning Platform to Pam Bovey Armstrong and Polina Buchan at St. Lawrence College in Ontario, Canada.

Sonja Johnston is a collaborative, multidisciplinary scholar with nearly a decade of experience in curriculum design and instruction in multiple post-secondary institutions. She is currently a PhD student in the Werklund School of Education at the University of Calgary, specializing in Learning Sciences. Sonja’s research focuses on higher education and workplace readiness. 


Lapointe, S., & Turner, J. (2020). Leveraging the skills of social sciences and humanities graduates. Skills Next 2020. 

Mishra, P. T., Mishra, A., & Chowhan, S. S. (2019). Role of higher education in bridging the skill gap. Universal Journal of Management, 7(4), 134-139. 

RBC. (2019, May). Bridging the gap: What Canadians told us about the skills revolution [report]. RBC Thought Leadership. 

Shopify. (n.d.). Company Info. 

Shopify. (n.d.). Open Learning.