The urgent need to prepare talent for current and future jobs is getting a lot of attention today. While it’s not a new problem, it is a big problem with an estimated 40% of employers saying they are not finding people with the skills they need. This “skills gap” is likely to increase with technology and other global trends changing the nature of future jobs. With estimations that people born today will live to be 150 years old, we can be certain of a couple things: People will need continual training for what could amount to 100 years in the workforce, and, as such, training/education won’t start and stop with a degree.
The good news is individuals are recognizing that continuous learning will be essential to their success. In a recent adult learner survey conducted by Pearson 72% surveyed say they will need additional education to keep up with advancements in their field in the next five years. Millennials specifically understand the need for continuous learning with 93% willing to spend their own time and money on further training. In fact, four out of five say the opportunity to learn new skills is a top factor when considering a new job, and 22% intend to take an extended break from work to gain new skills and qualifications.
We know that up-skilling and re-skilling will take several forms from certificate programs, formal advanced degrees, to modular/micro topical training on and off the job. Educators/schools, employers, and government will have to adapt. There are numerous case studies, recommendations, and success stories for how this ecosystem of providers can work together for maximum effectiveness, but the challenge always seems to be scaling the work.
The private sector spends $164 billion (Business roundtable.org) each year on education and training but they are still falling behind their needs. One scalable solution is for employers to map their jobs to skills. AT&T, Pearson, and others have done this and it’s beneficial in several ways. It helps retain and advance talent within the organization by providing transparent pathways to promotion and requirements for training. Tuition reimbursement dollars can be tied to specific skill development. When those skill requirements are shared openly, schools can begin to refine and develop curriculum and learning to prepare students for the workplace. This includes the sharing of hard skills requirements as well as personal and social capability requirements. This eventually leads to employers hiring based on skills and not relying on a degree in all instances as the de facto endorsement for job-readiness.
A skills-based approach to hiring and training is playing itself out in other ways and could impact how individuals and schools design their programs of study. For example, according to a 2017 report from Burning Glass Technologies, computer science skills are important across a range of jobs, but the same is not true for computer science degrees. Only 18% of the opportunities in these job categories specifically request a computer science degree. As a result, students and job seekers looking to get ahead should seek opportunities to develop computer science skills though individual courses, online training, or real-world projects.
Schools will need tighter connections to employers, not just to help prepare entry level workers for jobs with the hard and soft skills they need, but also to build out more robust continuing education programs to stay relevant for the learner throughout their lives. Today, schools largely hand over the lifelong learner to employers and third parties to do the up-skilling and re-skilling needed throughout a career, sacrificing a large, lucrative market for learning.
Schools are also in a great position to make the necessary connections between disciplines and skills to provide a more integrated experience that moves beyond a specific degree or program. A recent research report on the Jobs of the Future from Oxford Martin/Nesta/Pearson highlights some of the top O’Net features correlated with growing occupations: psychology, social perceptiveness, coordination, originality, fluency of ideas, sociology/anthropology, and active learning. Being able to develop these “skills”, make connections across disciplines, and then enable students to highlight their skill/knowledge through a badge or employer project is key to helping learners prepare for the future. These capabilities are further developed through internships and other work-based programs with employers. Figuring out a way to scale and require this type of learning is critical and may require further breakdown of what we know as degree programs today.
Finally, in order to scale the type of training needed throughout a lifetime, we need to get creative and expand options beyond employer tuition reimbursement and various government funding mechanisms. Recent research by Pearson found that tuition or fees for a program or course is a main barrier for planning or enrolling in a program for 80% of adult learners. One idea is to increase options for financial support by broadening the definition of no-degree programs that are available for leveraging 529 funds and Pell Grants. Allow for the 529 funds to be used for face-to-face, hybrid, and self-paced courses approved by industry associations/employers, courses tied to specific job skills, and courses that can be completed in under 10 weeks of instruction. The shortest duration of a program currently allowed for 529 funding is a program between 300 and 600 hours and a minimum of 10 weeks of instruction. Skills based training will likely be shorter and more modular and the funding mechanisms need to support new ways of learning.
It’s no secret we will need greater collaboration between employers, schools, and the government in order to build the best ecosystem for the workplace training and learning everyone will need over the course of a lifetime. Figuring out how to scale ideas around skill based learning and providing multiple funding opportunities will be key.