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3 ways universities can take the lead on employee upskilling

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habboin 27/09/2021 Universe 2282
As the labor shortage continues, universities can play a critical role in closing the skills gap.(AdobeStock)The current labor shortage isn’t about finding employees to do the work—it’s about identify...

As the labor shortage continues, universities can play a critical role in closing the skills gap.


The current labor shortage isn’t about finding employees to do the work—it’s about identifying people with the right skills and qualifications for the role.

Job openings continued to grow in May; in fact, the 9.3 million open jobs nearly matched the 9.8 million Americans who were unemployed, but searching for work during the month.

It’s not about a shortage of opportunities, but of skills. And it’s only going to get worse before it gets better. By 2030, it’s estimated that 6 million skilled jobs could go unfilled due to a lack of qualified talent.

To fill this gap, many enterprises are offering upskilling to their employees—learning and development courses designed to build on existing skillsets for open roles in an organization. But these programs are an overwhelming burden for employers, as most aren’t equipped to handle upskilling programs on their own.

Although it’s encouraging to see companies invest in upskilling, current program structures may not be enough to fill talent gaps. Most upskilling programs typically focus on soft skills like leadership and management.

However, the current skills disruption originates in technology, which requires high-level training and experienced teaching that few organizations can feasibly administer by themselves. As a result, most companies don’t have the internal education experts to provide the instruction required to effectively upskill employees.

Universities have the opportunity to become leaders in the upskilling revolution by working with agile companies that are experts in the most in-demand skills to offer certificate, micro-credential and short-term education programs.

Though the traditional model of higher education often struggles to quickly adapt to fill job-skilling needs, by partnering with enterprises to provide employee upskilling opportunities, universities can not only help fill critical skill gaps in the workforce, but open the door to an untapped market of potential students.

Turning short-term learners into long-term students

Both undergraduate and graduate students skew to younger age demographics—over 42% of 18- to 24-year olds are enrolled in either college or graduate school. However, only 11% of 25- to-34-year-olds are enrolled in these academic institutions—which aligns with the demographic of early- to mid-career level employees in need of upskilling.

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Additionally, in a recent study, Microsoft found that 41% of employees plan to leave their jobs within the next year, with 46% planning to make a career change. As a result, organizations can upskill employees looking to change careers and fill internal skill gaps.

For universities, on the other hand, employees’ plans to change careers will have both a short-term and long-term impact. By working with enterprises to offer upskilling programs, universities can help companies fill current skill gaps by offering certificate, micro-credential and short-term education programs.

In the long term, forging relationships with the entry- to mid-level talent via upskilling programs today will enable lifelong learning opportunities (like broader degree programs) down the line. Often, a degree will build on the skills workers learn in shorter upskilling programs to create an advanced educational path that fulfills their long-term career development.

Rethinking educational program structures

To become a viable upskilling partner to businesses and corporations, universities will need to adjust existing programs to meet the needs of today’s upskilling learners. Here are a few tips to consider when constructing upskilling programs:

1. Repurpose existing course programs. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel when it comes to learning content for upskilling. Instead of building an offering from scratch, repackage existing courses and university resources to create an upskilling program and design it thoughtfully around the enterprise partner’s needs.

2. Offer flexible course options. Since upskilling students are busy professionals, flexibility is key for work-life balance. Use a combination of asynchronous and synchronous learning so students can complete coursework at their convenience, but still get face time with faculty.

For example, Vanderbilt University’s online Business Management Certificate program offers students the opportunity to engage in discussions with leading, full-time faculty members.

3. Create a learning path for students. Ensure your programming counts for continuing education units that can be applied to future degree programs. By driving impact with your upskilling program, you can develop and groom students for advanced learning at the degree level.

As the skills gap continues to widen, universities and employers are at a critical juncture. By building certificate, micro-credential and short-term education upskilling programs, universities can open their doors to an enormous untapped market of highly motivated learners—and make education more accessible to a broader range of future students.

Kyle Shea is executive vice president, partnership development, and Cecil Banhan vice president, partnership development, at All Campus, an online program management services provider. Shea can be reached at kshea@allcampus.com and Banhan, at cbanhan@allcampus.com.