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:

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!

The following guest post is courtesy of our board member, David Creelman.

Ray Kroc, who built McDonald's into a global chain, is famous for saying “If you've time to lean, you've time to clean.” A better slogan for today's front-line workers might be “If you've time to lean, you've time to learn.”

Training front-line workers has always been difficult because they are dispersed in many locations and are too busy to take a day-off (or even an hour off) to go to a training course. However, they do have little blips of free time: 3 minutes here, 5 minutes there. That free time could be used to clean, but it could also be used to learn.

Smartphones are what makes the difference. It would have been impractical to put a learning kiosk in, for example, every McDonald's location, but now we can deliver excellent training via the person's own mobile device. The technological leap of affordable smartphones, makes a new approach to training possible.

To take advantage of smartphones, training needs to be delivered in very short chunks–and that's an entirely achievable objective. Manage the whole thing with the right learning management technology and you'll have all you need to deliver and track the training a front-line worker needs.

New technology (smartphones) and new training modules (short chunks) are two of the pillars of change. The last pillar is mindset. Managers of front-line workers will normally be happier seeing staff doing something (even if it is just gazing outwards, hoping a customer will walk in) rather than looking at their phone. Companies will have to convince managers that ongoing training matters, and also find some way to visibly show that the person is accessing a learning module, not social media. Mindset is the toughest challenge, but that's what change management is for.

Does ongoing training pay off? That should be an empirical question. A company could run all kinds of experiments to see what kind of training has the biggest impact on results. However, I must admit that one of the payoffs I would seek has little to do with better unit performance. The jobs of front line workers are threatened by automation. Their best hope for a bright future is learning new skills. If a company creates an atmosphere of continuous learning then that should have spin-off benefits in their employees' confidence in their ability to master new things. A company can't teach the specific skills these workers will need for future work; it can teach employees to be good learners.

It's hard to break out of the idea that learning takes place in classrooms. That old model still can deliver results, but it was never suitable for front-line workers. At last technology has created the opportunity to provide great learning that fits neatly into a front-line workers day. Let's embrace it.

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