Save Your College (and America’s Workforce) Through Corporate Training

Opinion | Higher Education

Save Your College (and America’s Workforce) Through Corporate Training

By Ryan Craig and Frank Britt     Mar 25, 2017

Save Your College (and America’s Workforce) Through Corporate Training

Following last year’s U.S. Presidential election, it’s crystal clear that the unfettered globalizing forces of the past 30+ years may have produced more wealth in aggregate, but have dislocated workers in less competitive industries. Dislocated workers have now become disgruntled voters. And critically, a large number of Americans voting for change have not earned the sine qua non of today’s labor market (i.e., bachelor’s degrees), do not work in knowledge-intensive sectors of the economy, and do not live in the fastest-growing regions.

It could get a lot worse for these workers before it gets better. Studies project anywhere from 10 to 47 percent of current jobs are at risk of being eliminated by technology. The good news is that there are jobs to be had, particularly in the middle-skill sector led by manufacturing, skilled trades, healthcare, transportation and large, front-line focused sectors such as retail and hospitality.

It’s clear that leaving the economy prostrate to global forces while failing to retrain and reskill workers who have been left behind is no longer a sustainable approach. The question becomes how to accomplish this massive retraining.

The traditional solution to retraining and reskilling is vocational education, including community colleges, career colleges and some traditional four-year institutions, complemented by local Workforce Boards and community-based organizations. But based on the growing skills gap, it’s reasonable to conclude that these institutions will only fulfill a fraction of marketplace needs and that new and different solutions are required.

The fundamental problem is that our workforce development system is not actually a system, but rather a variety of independent institutions and organizations making well-meaning efforts to address workforce needs in their communities. While these efforts are laudable, they are highly fragmented and lack the depth and scope needed to develop and leverage economies of scale and best education practices and technologies. In the meantime, colleges and universities remain rooted in an academic model; even community colleges remain focused on providing associate’s degrees and inexpensive pathways to bachelor’s degrees.

If traditional colleges and universities care about addressing these issues, they’ll want to rethink their current scattershot approaches. And instead of aligning future state design along an academic paradigm, they should re-engineer their institutions according to a placement paradigm.

Academic Paradigm Placement Paradigm
Faculty-centric Employer-centric
Limited focus on workplace skills assessment Focus on competency assessment
Standard academic curriculum Individualized pathways to employment

The placement paradigm is a hybrid design that borrows aspects of today’s postsecondary institutions and workforce investment boards. It starts with available and anticipated open jobs and the objective of delivering qualified students to employers to place in these positions. This means understanding required competencies and assessing and preparing students to exactly these levels across a range of skill areas. While conceding that elite colleges and universities will continue to serve elite students, shifting the rest of the postsecondary ecosystem to a placement paradigm would be a major improvement over the status quo.

The question is how to get there. Based on our experience at University Ventures and Penn Foster, we believe that one useful shortcut to a placement paradigm is for colleges and universities to launch employer or corporate training programs to upskill existing employees. The combination of B2B and B2C models under one roof will unlock synergies that can fuel this critical transition.

Here’s why:

Corporate Training Makes Providers More Employer-centric

Whereas today’s colleges and universities may have advisory boards of executives or otherwise pay lip service to employers, organizations that are in the business of selling and delivering training solutions to employers must have their fingers on the pulse of hiring managers’ needs.

Traditional colleges and universities prioritize faculty who determine which courses are taught, and with what curriculum. On the other hand, organizations that sell training to employers have an urgent incentive to provide education that improves workforce performance. They can’t afford to allow faculty to simply do what they like; customers (employers) play a much more important role in product development.

Corporate Training Focuses Providers on Competency Assessment

Training providers understand the competencies required for a specific job because they have the opportunity to evaluate existing employees who do that job—often on the job. As a result, successful B2B training businesses are often better positioned to assess job-related competencies than employers themselves, including via contemporary talent assessment practices such as true-to-life situational judgment tests, predictive skill and aptitude diagnostics analytics, and job specific personality and behavioral tools.

Corporate Training Involves Individualized Pathways

In a traditional academic model, the academic program or credential comes first, with employability and employment an afterthought. In a placement paradigm, the job comes first, and training and skill building follows. The result must be an educational pathway that is individualized, if not to the specific job, then at least to a sector or job category.

Training providers are already in the business of customizing pathways for employee skill development. They are used to developing bespoke training solutions for diverse cohorts of employees. And providers of online training are already offering individualized training pathways based on employee competency assessment and development goals.

IBM’s chief executive Ginni Rometty recently said: “2017 should be an inflection point around the world for how we’re going to look at education.” If she’s right, it will be because we’ve made a decisive shift to a placement paradigm. Achieving this decisive shift will require a critical mass of colleges and universities to deploy employer-facing training models.

The good news is that, at scale, operating a placement-focused postsecondary system should require less government funding than the status quo. This is because education and training pathways will be shorter (on average), and postsecondary institutions will generate revenue from employers in the form of placement fees or tuition reimbursement once employers are convinced to make a permanent hire.

The placement paradigm is emerging, and we all have an enormous opportunity to rethink past practices and double down on affordable, relevant, and accessible education and training. The road will not be straight. But by adding corporate training to their current offerings, colleges and universities can reorganize according to a placement paradigm, and in so doing improve productivity, economic growth and social and economic mobility for all Americans.

Ryan Craig (@ryancraiguv) is Managing Director of University Ventures. Frank F. Britt (@frankbritt) is CEO of Penn Foster Education

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