Understanding higher ed’s role in workforce education partnerships

To better prepare students for jobs, new groups and companies are emerging to help connect what employers want and colleges offer.

Written by: Hallie Busta

Published in: EducationDive

Automation, artificial intelligence and other emerging technologies are changing the nature of work, and colleges and universities are pushing to keep up with the resulting demand for more and different kinds of education and training. But they’re not working alone. Employers, which have scaled back their investments in employee education in recent years, are again seeing a need to be involved in that upskilling.

Yet studies repeatedly show that business leaders are often at odds with colleges and students as to whether graduates are adequately prepared for the workforce.

How higher ed and companies can reconcile their views in order to identify and address the skills students need was the topic of a panel session at a conference for public-private partnerships in postsecondary education, held this week at George Mason University, near Washington, D.C.

“Employers literally want to see that (graduates) have the skills they’re looking for so (they) can be productive in that job on day one,” said Ryan Craig, managing director of investment firm University Ventures and a panel participant. “That’s hard and that requires a set of new and different initiatives (from universities and third parties).”
‘Continuous skills’

Those skills are changing. Colleges are now charged with developing learners “who understand that education is no longer a one-time affair,” said Nicole Smith, also a panelist and chief economist at the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. She added that postsecondary institutions have the potential to be a “revolving door” through which students come and go as they need to re-up their qualifications.

Sylvia Burwell, president of American University, agrees. “People are going to flow in and out of postsecondary education” seeking a mix of skills, knowledge and credentials, she said on the panel. “Continuous skills,” which include critical thinking, problem-solving, teamwork, writing, oral communication and data analytics, serve as the foundation.

From there, she asks, “How do you think about the (additions) you are going to have throughout an individual’s career and life?”

There’s another dimension to consider, which panelist Shoshana Vernick, managing director of the Education Opportunity Fund at investment firm Sterling Partners, calls “curiosity skills,” or a student’s ability to adapt to and navigate “social challenges” such as a multigenerational workplace or the demands of a gig economy.

That full range of skills is important to employers, who may also require field-specific knowledge. For instance, in a pair of surveys last year, business leaders and hiring managers found new graduates lacked certain skills thought to help propel them beyond entry-level jobs, including oral communication and the ability to apply knowledge in real-world settings. [Read the complete article…]