While colleges have continued to do a reasonably good job of preparing students for the cognitive skills they need to become successful professionals, employers have changed. Systems and processes that were once physical or manual are now digital and automated, and governed by sophisticated new enterprise software or SaaS platforms that require tens, if not hundreds, of hours of training to navigate. competently. To prepare students for a post-Covid future, colleges and universities must redouble their efforts to prepare them for digital jobs. But even teaching platform skills are not enough. Few employers are interested in hiring candidates who have just completed a training program, they are looking for relevant work experience. The good news is that there are two promising models for colleges to go beyond the traditional career services function to provide students with relevant digital education and work experience.
When the world shut down for Covid, there was a real sense of stasis or loss in higher education, as the remote experience absolutely failed to replicate or replace the immersive experience on the campus. But while higher education has stopped, the rest of the world has not stopped. In fact, the digital transformation of the economy has accelerated. In May 2020, David Autor of MIT referred to the pandemic as an “automation-forcing event”, an idea that is proven prescient as companies redouble their efforts in digital transformation to engage remotely with all stakeholders – customers, suppliers, shareholders, lenders and above all employees.
As students have returned to campus this fall and campus leaders are touting a return to some sort of (masked) normality, it’s only natural to want to throw Frisbees around the quad and put all the digital and remote stuff behind we. Headlines about the boiling job market for college graduates make it even more tempting. Unfortunately, given the digital transformation we’ve seen, it’s the calm on campus before the storm. Colleges and universities urgently need to figure out how to equip students with skills on digital platforms and provide them with essential relevant work experience. Institutions that do so will position themselves at the forefront of higher education in the post-pandemic era.
Before Covid, higher education faced an employability crisis nearly half of all university students graduated underemployed. This crisis has been building for decades. While colleges have continued to do a reasonably good job of preparing students for the cognitive skills they need to become successful professionals – critical thinking, problem solving, executive function abilities – employers have changed. Systems and processes that were once physical or manual are now digital and automated, and governed by sophisticated new enterprise software or SaaS platforms that require tens, if not hundreds, of hours of training to navigate. competently. Within the company, each department or function has spawned an alphabetical soup of SaaS: Pardot (marketing), Marketo (digital marketing), Google Adwords (digital marketing), ZenDesk Plus (customer service), NetSuite (finance), Financial Force (finance), Workday (HR) and the Salesforce customer relationship management (CRM) platform, the most popular SaaS platform in US companies. Salesforce told me that they believe there are between 300,000 and 400,000 vacancies in the United States for Salesforce administrators, developers, analysts and consultants, with million more to be created in the next five years.
Recognizing that a lack of talent trained on these platforms will hinder growth, companies like Salesforce have made significant investments in developing resources and training programs like Starting point. Corn self-paced online courses only work for a small minority, and usually not for those who need the most help finding good jobs. So the question becomes, who will provide this training?
Employers themselves do not seem to be the answer. Before the Great Recession, more employers were accustomed to providing training to new employees. But due to the economic downturn, rising newbie churn, and higher cost of bad hires, many large and medium-sized companies have abandoned entry-level training programs. Hiring frictions continue to rise for employers, and the prevailing view is that new hires need to have the right skills from day one.
Higher education institutions also do not answer the bell. You can count on two hands the number of colleges and universities that offer courses on SaaS platforms like Salesforce. Or consider Epic, the leading electronic health records system in US hospitals and healthcare systems. When you’re talking to your doctor and she’s not looking at you, but instead tapping on a screen, chances are she’s interacting with Epic. And while it takes a long time for healthcare professionals to get used to Epic’s hundreds of features, learning how to configure or integrate Epic to fit into a hospital’s existing systems and services takes hundreds. of hours. The invaluable professionals who help hospitals do this important work are called Epic Certified Analysts. And despite the fact that there are approximately 50,000 unfilled Epic Certified Analyst jobs in hospitals, healthcare systems, and service providers, not a single post-secondary institution in America offers a relevant course or program. for these skills.
But even teaching platform skills are not enough. Few employers are interested in hiring candidates who have just completed a training program, even if they have a Trailhead certificate. They are looking for relevant work experience.
The increased pressure on relevant work experience is a direct result of the heightened hiring friction felt by employers. The bar has been raised due to the increase cost of a bad hire, increased entry level churnand sclerotic hiring systems that weed out hundreds of potentially qualified applicants. It is common knowledge that the best qualification for a job is whether the candidates have already been successful in a similar job. But that’s a problem for emerging roles like SaaS jobs, many of which simply didn’t exist before.
The good news is that there are a few very promising models for colleges to go beyond the traditional (limit) career services function to provide students with relevant digital training and work experience.
The first is a revolution in work-integrated learning, a revolution that is happening due to – wait for it – digital transformation. Internships have been around for decades, but integrating them systematically into courses is difficult. This is why there is only one university in the Northeast, with its famous Global network (cooperative program). But the emergence of new online marketplaces for work-integrated learning allows every college or university to offer students relevant work experience as a core experience in hundreds of courses. This is what Arizona State University (ASU) has done with its marketplace for workplace learning, which uses the Riipen platform to enable students to leverage one million hours of experiential learning projects. Although it’s too early to see if work-based learning helps graduates get better jobs, the concept is gaining momentum; in just three years, Riipen has delivered more than 100,000 workplace learning experiences from nearly 20,000 employers to students at more than 350 colleges and universities.
The second is the emergence of a new set of intermediaries that partner with colleges and universities and operate what is known as a “Hire-Train-Deploy” model. Consider the University of North Florida (UNF), a public institution that serves some 17,000 students in Jacksonville. In June 2020, with many of its peers wringing their hands to reopen, UNF launched a one-of-a-kind partnership with Optimum Healthcare IT, a consulting firm that helps hospitals implement and configure Epic. The arrangement allows new and recent UNF graduates – many graduates in biology or life sciences – to enter a 12-week apprenticeship program that allows them to master several Epic modules and pays them throughout their on-the-job learning. At the end of the 12 weeks, the apprentices join the Optimum teams serving the hospitals, in the hope that Optimum’s client hospitals will eventually want to hire these apprentices for great jobs in healthcare IT. . So far, Optimum Career Path has launched the health informatics careers of more than 100 consultants who can expect to earn six-figure salaries within a few years.
ASU and UNF are just two examples of institutions that are thinking beyond here-and-now needs, preparing students for the digital present and future. Colleges and universities that redouble their efforts to prepare students for digital jobs will be in the best position to redefine higher education in the years to come. With so many short-term decisions about vaccines and mask mandates, it’s not easy to do. But this is our best chance to build a system that actually serves students and gives them greater potential for return on investment after years of paying exorbitant tuition fees.