Our current systems of learning are not adequately addressing the durable skills needs of all students and employees. As an example, while it was once acceptable for an accountant to excel solely at analyzing numbers, much of that basic analysis work is now done with technology. As such, the role of an accountant has changed into that of a strategic advisor and collaborator with clients or other stake- holders across a business. Subsequently, durable skills, including verbal communication, teamwork and leadership, are now necessary to fulfill the duties of the newly defined role.
Traditionally in higher education, durable skills development has been secondary to the more job-specific knowledge and skills development of a given program. This durable skills gap is seen in a LinkedIn survey of hiring managers that highlights the challenges of finding candidates with the right durable skills for 59 percent of open jobs.
The emphasis on job skills has contributed to today’s higher education system typically being viewed by students as an “up-front” provider of education rather than a lifelong system of learning. Students mostly expect to attend for two to four years and learn the skills necessary for a particular job, and are often not focusing on, or aware of, the durable skills they should be acquiring and demonstrating to employers.
Employer-based training systems are now increasingly dealing simultaneously with an incoming and existing workforce that lacks durable skills and whose job skills have limited value over time. The intersection of these two forces has left employers struggling to provide the training necessary to up-skill and reskill their workforce. A survey by ATD Research and the Institute for Corporate Productivity found that only 31 percent of companies have a well-developed learning culture.
The average employee is only provided 24 minutes per week for workplace training while the majority of today’s training time and funds (up to 70 percent) goes to already highly-skilled and senior staff.
Today’s reality is that employees who are most likely to be impacted by automation and other technology are left to fend for themselves—often piecing together their own professional learning through free sources or third-party providers such as associations and private companies, or returning to a degree program.
As institutions of higher education are preparing students with the durable
it is equally important that they also provide opportunities to be lifelong learners.
CREATING OPPORTUNITIES FOR REENGAGEMENT
Institutions of higher education need to provide employees in the workforce with opportunities to reengage with the education system to refresh their job skills over time. Designing programs that allow experienced learners to reengage with the institution for specific technical skill training but without requiring them to leave the workforce or commit to a multi-year degree is essential.
One method of exible program design is competency-based education (CBE). CBE has shown to be an effective method to allow individuals with a base layer of knowledge to rapidly proceed through a program where they have relevant skills and spend more time learning those skills they do not have. With online components, CBE programs can give additional flexibilities to employees who may not live near a physical campus or have the schedule availability for in-person courses.
THE EMPLOYER’S ROLE
To obtain and retain a stable and skilled workforce, employers have a responsibility to advocate for their employees and provide them with more opportunities to engage in upskilling and retraining. This should include employer-based training where possible and providing employees with opportunities to connect back to the higher education system.
Employer-based Training Opportunities
Skills development is not a quick or easy task.
For durable skills in particular, mastery requires ongoing coaching, mentoring, and feedback rather than simply standardized curriculum, assessment, and certification. Traditionally, an employer-based training program has required face-to-face meetings with individuals or small-groups which can be time and resource intensive—limiting scalability, including in large companies.
Technology, however, is changing this dynamic. Many of those previously in-person activities of a training experience can be done online using the same technologies developed for the education system; more efficient and effective. This is especially rele- vant in mid-career-level training where assessment of a person’s current skill level and designing a curriculum to meet market needs are integral to an individual’s success.
Investing in training programs is a ‘no-regret’ action. Fostering a lifelong learning culture in the workplace boosts engagement, develops highly skilled workers, and increases productivity. All companies, regardless of their size, should invest in continued skills training.
Connecting to the Higher Education System
Establishing or scaling up an employer-based training system can take time. For smaller companies, the resource requirements for an in-house program, even when leveraging technology to provide efficiencies, can still be cost prohibitive. However, collaborating with the higher education system to address immediate needs can be a way for companies to leverage the strengths of post-secondary institutions in skills development. Providing time or financial assistance for employees to reengage with the higher education system can be a more efficient way to provide training opportunities.
Companies of any size can also leverage the higher education system to create a steady pipeline of skilled talent. Through cooperative partnerships, employers and institutions should work together to develop programs based on the skill needs of a sector with work-integrated learning opportunties.