Happy New Year, everyone! In our last entry, we shared the traditional educational approach to solving some of the workforce issues being faced. As part of that discussion, I mentioned a few challenges facing that traditional approach. Today, we will examine how the traditional education system can overcome these challenges.
Some of the challenges faced by traditional education are inherent in the system. Because the world and its needs are changing at an ever-increasing pace, it is critical for collegiate programs to have curriculum approved and accredited – or at a minimum – reviewed in a timely manner. Because traditional educational systems change slowly, there is every possibility that the curriculum will not change in time to meet the needs of college students. Additionally, the time it takes to decide and then complete a degreed program is measured in years (and as we shared in Part 11 it is approaching the better part of a decade), and obviously, that timeframe won’t address the current, urgent need for a skilled workforce. The traditional education system needs approaches to these inherent challenges for it to be viewed as a viable solution to the workforce conundrum. Later in this series, we will examine more apocalyptic approaches, but today, we will limit ourselves to lesser adjustments, and we will leave the idea of complete overhaul for a later discussion.
Rapid Change of Needs
There are several institutes of higher education that have seen the rapidity of change clearly on their landscape and have taken various approaches to resolve this concern while remaining relevant. The Government of the Netherlands offered its approach to closing the gap between education and industry to include:
- Teaching entrepreneurial skills
- Combining studying with running a business
- Better links between education and the labor market, and
- More qualified technicians
It seems obvious that educational institutions and businesses need more formal alignment not only with what jobs are available and needed today but with the basic skills that will be required for the yet to be created jobs of the future. For example, I am excited to see there are several colleges and universities that now offer a mechatronics program. If you are unfamiliar with the term, it was originally created in Japan in the mid-1960s and refers to the combination of mechanical and electrical engineering skills being combined, most often in the pursuit of robotics. The first accredited version of this program came about in 1997. This is a great example of colleges adjusting or adding new programs to meet the rising needs of the industry.
As we know, the time it takes an average student to complete a college degree (especially in the United States) keeps getting longer. Not only has the cost of college in the U.S. gone up by 260% in the past couple of decades, the fact that it takes so long to complete the degree challenges the cost/value equation of a college degree. There are several potential solutions to this challenge.
Apprenticeship programs have been very successful in Germany and other countries and could be emulated in many locations. The German system usually operates in one of two ways: a student will work three days a week and attend classes two days a week, or a student will attend university for a term and then work for a term. Integrating real-world experience with formal education is a winning equation and more learning centers are adopting this kind of model.
Partnering with credentialing programs is another great solution to cutting down the time requirement. Obtaining credentials can provide a student with the opportunity to start working in a very short time with some key skills. Once that first position is obtained, there could be several other paths forward – including a full college degree – that will allow employees to provide for themselves and their families while they continue to increase their value through additional education.
As with everything, there are strengths and weaknesses – a college education is no different. As every one of us continues to find ways to improve, higher education needs to do the same. There are some stellar programs available at some institutions, but for the most part, institutions of higher education need to do more to ensure they are meeting the needs of their customers (students) and the market. Students, on the other hand, need to be proactive and understand the limitations of the various options and develop a plan that will work for them. That plan might very well incorporate credentialing programs and higher education.