A friend likes to tell the story of a frog stuck in a muddy wagon track. The frog’s friends did everything they could to encourage him to get out.
Try as hard as they might, the frog refused to work his way out of the mud. Several days later, they found the frog by the pond, chipper, joyful, and very pleased with himself. His friends commented, “How did you get here? We thought you couldn’t get out of the rut!”
The frog replied, “I couldn’t, but a wagon was coming and I quickly realized the danger of my situation, so I worked hard to get out of the rut.”
For institutions of postsecondary education and workforce training, the wagon is coming. Nimble, relevant, on-demand, alternative methods of education and skills-based training are coming. To compete, thrive and not just survive, postsecondary education and workforce training institutions must realize the wagon is here and innovative partnerships are the key to survival.
Public confidence in higher education is wavering
Higher education institutions – private, public, for-profit and not – are struggling in the face of demographic shifts, the arrival of automation, declining enrollment, political pushback, and faltering faith in the system. These factors are quick to surface in public polls (Pew Research 2019, Gallop 2019); stakeholders cite they are most concerned about affordability (85% of respondents) and a general lack of observable skills alignment to labor market needs (65% of respondents). In fact, higher education credentials do cost significantly more than they used to, the skills and knowledge gained is not necessarily in alignment with current job skills, and the likelihood of needing additional training over the course of a typical career is significant. Observable trends like the national declining enrollment in higher education suggests that the public perception of the return on investment in traditional higher education has diminished.
Today’s economy has shifted to more adults seeking training and employers demanding workers with a skilled-based education and training. This adjustment has reframed the role for higher education institutes as a catalyst for innovative partnerships that deliver needed education and training. Sensing a dramatic change in education and employment demands, states and universities – public, private and for-profit – are stepping up their efforts to become more nimble, relevant and competitive in serving diverse student and employer needs.
The rise of nimble, relevant, and competitive training partnerships and opportunities
Learners still place a great deal of faith in education to help them achieve success, but the way they choose to access it is evolving. In addition to enrolling in traditional educational institutions, learners are using a self-service approach, stitching together a range of education experiences based on what they can afford and what works for their lifestyles at a given point in their lives or careers. Learners and employers are increasingly accepting of the promise of new learning options such as stackable credentials and micro-degrees. As people are increasingly working longer, the need to reskill and upskill throughout their lives is critical.
Higher education institutions are under increasing pressure to prove the market value of degrees and credentials – immediately and in the long-term. Increasingly, employers believe that U.S. colleges aren’t producing enough graduates with the skills companies need. Therefore, corporations are partnering with higher education and alternative credentialing programs to build worker pipelines.
Innovative partnerships are being developed locally. Last fall, Wenatchee Valley College teamed up with Confluence Health to usher in a new Pharmacy Technician program designed to meet increased community demand. This effort co-funds a program director and increases the likelihood of local talent filling local positions.
A second example is the partnership between the Foundation for Water and Energy Education, Chelan and Grant County Public Utility Districts and Wenatchee Valley College, called the Hydropower STEM Career Academy. The Academy encourages interest in hydroelectric power and is open to students entering grades 9 through 12 in eligible Washington counties. The program focuses on hydro sector careers that rely on “STEM” (science, technology, engineering and mathematic) skills. Students can earn college credit for their participation as well as build their skills-based education and training.
The need for more education and training paramount
The 2019 Strata-Gallup Education Consumer Survey of 350,000 people found that nearly half of those surveyed feel they need more education and skills-based training for career advancement in a tighter job market. Younger, non-white and urban residents felt a greater need for additional skills. The younger respondents indicated they will not attend traditional post-secondary institutions but instead will look to employers, community colleges, and trade schools for more education.
The way we are doing business has changed too. Automation and technological advances are changing the types of jobs in business and industry, nationally, and right here in Wenatchee.
The National Skill Coalition estimates that around 90 million American workers will require new training to maintain their jobs in the near future. Higher education institutions will be critical partners to building out new foundational skills training models. Adapting the traditional design of higher education is no simple task, but it is a prudent approach to evolve with the changing economy. There could be fiscal reward for those who can innovate.
An analysis by the World Economic Forum found the cost to retrain 77% of U.S. workers who are at risk of displacement is $20 billion.
This sum has not gone unnoticed by industry. Fortune 500 companies are developing training programs to prepare their workers for a future with automation where jobs will change significantly or cease to exist entirely. Alongside these programs, a for-profit, training-as-a-service industry is emerging – firms that will come into your company and train everyone for you.
Amazon, as an example, is positioning itself to enter this new reskilling-in-a-box business. Amazon has rolled out one of its training programs, Career Choice, to several companies across 13 countries. Career Choice partners with community colleges to train current Amazon workers and place them in jobs ranging from Dental Hygienist to plumber to Web Developer.
The American public still believes that higher education is a pathway to a better job and life but the way Americans access training for career advancement is changing. It’s now up to higher education institutions to create alternative educational pathways, workforce training, and corporate partnerships that meet individual student and workforce needs.
To compete and thrive, not just survive, higher education must address access and affordability challenges, implement proven practices of student support, aggressively increase attainment rates, and ensure credential quality that complement identified workforce demands and skills alignment.
The incoming generation of workers value college education as much as previous generations – but they place similar value on alternatives such as education-business partnerships, vocational and technical skills-based training, apprenticeships, and work-based mentorships.
Our future depends on our higher education training institutions’ success in building partnerships with businesses and industries that are a nimble, responsive to individual and workforce demands, and result in a quality skills-based credential leading to gainful employment and a prosperous economy.
Dr. Gene Sharratt co-chairs Washington State’s STEM Education Innovation Alliance. In addition, he serves on the Washington College Promise Coalition and Complete College America National board. He can be reached at [email protected] or 509-670-3222.
Dr. Sue Kane is co-director of the Apple STEM Network and a member of the STEM Education Innovation Alliance. She can be reached at [email protected] or 509-888-7036.
- How your favorite Peloton instructors are continuing their education beyond Black History Month – WKMG News 6 & ClickOrlando
- Southwest Virginia education centers help teachers tackle pandemic challenges – Bristol Herald Courier
- AvePoint Launches EduTech To Improve Higher Education Technology – Yahoo Finance
- Gauging A Plan To Alter Education Funding in Oklahoma – Oklahoma Watch
- Proposed legislation would have parents opt-in children for education on human sexuality – East Idaho News
- Parents, teachers react to state’s new Education Recovery Plan – WCAX
- Sparta Board of Education Introduces New Superintendent Ahead of Tuesday’s Meeting – TAPinto.net
- Other View: Just to gauge where we are with education during these uneven times, resume standardized testing in schools – Duluth News Tribune
- Education Should Be About Building Democratic Citizens, Not Compliant Workers – Jacobin magazine