Just like there are no simple answers to solving world hunger or perfecting a global economy, there are no simple approaches to solving the workforce conundrum. As we have discussed in many of this year’s Workforce Conundrum blogs, there are challenges from several different fronts that need to be addressed: demographic differences in generations and gender, rapidly changing information, company loyalty concerns, as well as unemployment and poor alignment of available skilled workers. It seems obvious to me that there is no silver bullet to resolving these concerns. We are dealing with multivariable calculus in which the operational rules change even while we are working on the problem. The solution requires a multipronged approach to ‘how’ we can go about improving this concern.
In this multifaceted approach, we will be discussing several avenues of approach: traditional schooling, ad hoc training, leveraging technology, exploiting shortcuts, and apprenticeships or earn and learn models. That’s your foreshadowing…now, let’s tackle the first ‘how’ in the list – traditional schooling.
For this article, we will be defining traditional education as that which takes place after high school: Universities, Community Colleges and Technical / Trade colleges. These are similar in that they offer courses in continuing education but tend to differ in the content and experiences delivered. Universities provide bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral programs and degrees while community colleges typically offer two-year associate degrees. A technical college is usually more focused on a specific career area (robotics, construction, etc.) and while they may offer an associate degree they often offer short courses and award certificates. Just how many institutes of higher education are there? There are more than 28,000 universities around the globe (that is just universities).
Figure 1: Countries with Top 100 Universities[i]
Why it is Good
One of the key advantages of attending a college or university is the consistency of the education you will receive. Professors and teachers have guidelines that need to be followed when they teach courses. Why do these guidelines exist? Well, for one reason, a higher education institute needs to be accredited. Without accreditation, a school’s ability to offer value is decreased significantly – transfer of credits, acceptability by employers, and applicability to higher level degree programs are hindered without that accreditation.
Another advantage of traditional schools is the community that is offered. Students usually will be learning with several others on the same topics. This can speed and enhance the learning process. A student is also likely to be exposed to more perspectives from their professors than would be gained from just personal research. Those are some of the strengths of traditional schooling; now let’s review some of the challenges.
Some of the Challenges
The very things that are advantages can also be detractors for accredited programs at colleges. The accreditation process is fairly rigid for good reason, but that rigidity can also inhibit a school’s ability to adapt quickly to changing needs in the industry. Historically, the core topics of math, literature, grammar, physics and the like, just didn’t change that often (they still don’t), so that rigidity again was well founded. However, with the rapid evolution of technology and topics related to such, many schools struggle to remain relevant.
Another challenge faced by traditional schools is that of time. Two key take-aways here are the time to complete a university education (the industry has needs now) and the goal toward which one is training (jobs are changing, and future jobs are largely unknown[ii]). Imagine the frustration one might feel after spending years of one’s life and tens of thousands on an education to find out that the job or career you thought you were training for doesn’t exist anymore. That is a challenge worth solving!
How long does it take to complete college? If your answer for universities is four years, you’d be right less often than most people think. In the United States in 1990, the Right-to-Know Act required postsecondary institutions to publish the percent of students who completed their program in 150% of the time – 6 years for a 4-year program. The answer to the question above is that only 60% of students starting a program will have completed that 4-year program in 6 years[iii]. The increased amount of time required to complete one’s formal education also translates to an increased opportunity cost – every semester of school add to the very real cost tuition, fees, books and housing as well as the lost income of the time spent learning not earning.
Given these various strengths and weaknesses, in the next blog we’ll talk about what may be done to address some of the weaknesses described.