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Re-thinking the Traditional Path to Work

Today's post is written by the executive director of The Workforce Institute, Dr. Chris Mullen, Ph.D., SHRM-SCP, SPHR.

This recent article from Fortune, IBM's New Path to a Six-figure Salary Doesn't Require a College Degree, really caught my eye. The article reports on IBM's efforts to train potential workers right out of high school so that they are creating a workforce that has the skills IBM wants and needs. And IBM is not alone. The paradigm around higher education has been shifting in recent years and the pandemic has only accelerated the rate of change. A few of the key statistics mentioned in the article:

  • Higher education lost 400,000 students last fall, with community college enrollment down more than 10%.
  • More than a third of prospective college students say they are reconsidering going, and an even bigger number wants to delay for a year or two.
  • The average debt among recent college graduates who borrowed was a record $30,000 in 2019.
  • A McKinsey Global Survey found 87% of executives identify skill gaps in the workforce or expect them within a few years.

Why take on all that debt with the risk of leaving college unprepared to work anywhere? That's the question a lot of students and parents are asking.

The skills gap, changing views on higher education, and embracing lifelong learning are issues we've been writing about for years at The Workforce Institute. Here's a sampling of some of our most insightful content on the topic.

Closing the Talent Gap in Manufacturing: New Survey Results

Last year, The Workforce Institute did a deep dive on the talent gap that exists in the manufacturing sector specifically. Among the many interesting findings here, three in five organizations took steps to upskill (65%) and cross-train (58%) employees, while 1 in 4 offered apprenticeships (28%) or mentorships (26%).

Closing The Skills Gap

My colleague at The Workforce Institute Dan Schawbel, wrote this piece about the skills gap where he highlighted research that found that almost half of companies are blaming colleges for not preparing students for jobs. A third of those surveyed agree that colleges are most responsible for getting an employee “work ready” yet more than 40 percent of companies have not collaborated with colleges to make curriculum more responsive to workplace needs.

The Five Components of Career Durability

This post from my colleague Alexandra Levit talks about the growing trend of employees feeling “disposable” - that their employer could take them or leave them. Employees agree that in today's workforce, tenure, education, and industry experience do not matter as much as hard work, meeting goals and deadlines, and having a positive attitude. Alexandra has long been a proponent of micro- credentialing and talks about it here as a way to continue to grow in one's career and create “career durability”. Alexandra also participated in a podcast on this very topic.

Preparing Your Workforce for the Future of Work

This podcast featuring Workforce Institute board members Martin Armstrong, Alexandra Levit and Sharlyn Lauby, was a wide-ranging discussion focusing on the importance of learning agility, the benefits of upskilling and reskilling, and the issue of who bears responsibility when it comes to skill acquisition - the employee or the employer. Well worth a listen!

This is an issue that is not going away and I am really excited to see how organizations get creative (like IBM) about creating learning opportunities for employees and prospective employees that benefit both parties. Corporate training programs that give employees the skills they need without incurring debt, partnerships between private industry and public education institutes to create meaningful curriculum, apprenticeships and internships that lead to long-term employment: the opportunities are endless for those who think innovatively about the topic.

Does your employer offer a program like IBM's? Do you have thoughts about the usefulness or lack thereof of a traditional college experience when it comes to landing a job you want? Tell us about your experience in the comments!

Share your insights!

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