On-Demand Webinar: The State of the Skills Gap

Last updated on: June 22, 2021

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Closing the skills gap remains a focus for leaders across the higher ed and employer communities. In 2021, Wiley Education Services published the Reimagining the Workforce report to share employer views on education benefits, college programs, micro-credentials, and other ways to address this challenge. The report served as a springboard for the illuminating conversation you’ll hear in The State of the Skills Gap: Connecting Education With Career Outcomes webinar.

Topics of Discussion

WCET hosted a panel of experts from George Mason University, the Missouri State Workforce Development Board, and Wiley. Stream the video for their perspectives on:

  • The value of degrees vs. certifications in the labor market
  • Today’s most in-demand skills and their perceived lifespans
  • How higher ed can understand and meet evolving skill needs
  • Opportunities to upskill, reskill, and reinvest in college grads

Stream the Webinar

Read Video Transcript

Megan Raymond:
Well, we are at the top of the hour. Do you want to go ahead and start the webinar?

Kim Nawrocki:
Yeah. My computer’s always a minute behind. I will go ahead and start. Okay. I’m going to go ahead and get started while people continue to join. Thank you so much for joining us for our webcast today, The State of the Skills Gap: Connecting Education with Career Outcomes. My name is Kim Nawrocki, Coordinator for Events and Programs at WCET. As we go through today, if you have any questions, please enter them into the question box and we’ll get to them during the Q and A portion. Sometimes, if you put them in chat, we do lose track of them, so please be sure to use the Q and A box at the bottom of your screen. We are recording, and we’ll share that with you by the end of the week. We’ll post a link to the slides, so you can download those if you like, and you can follow our Twitter backchannel using the hashtag WCETWebcast.

Kim Nawrocki:
Today’s webcast is hosted in partnership with our friends at Wiley Education Services. They introduced us to today’s panelists and we are grateful for their partnership and support. I also want to acknowledge our sponsor VITAC for making captioning available during the webcast. You can access those if you’re interested. Again, if you have any questions, enter them into the Q and A, and we’ll get to those when it’s time. I’d like to introduce you to our moderator for today’s webcast, who is probably a familiar face if you’ve been to other WCET events, Megan Raymond, WCET’s Senior Director of Programs and Membership. Over to you, Megan.

Megan Raymond:
Hi, everybody. Thank you, Kim and thank you everyone for being here today, we really appreciate the participation and we look forward to the discussion and then the Q and A towards the end. So if this is your first WCET webcast, we’re so glad to have you here. And if you’re a familiar face, it’s also good to see you too. I am the Senior Director of Programs and Membership, and I’ve been with WCET … I’m just coming up on my 14th anniversary, so it’s hard to believe. It’s been such a long and fun journey. But the best part of my job is that I get to connect with really smart people doing amazing work across the country. And we even have members in Australia and Canada, so globally, I get to connect with really smart people. We have several of those people on with us today, and I’d like to go ahead and call on them to do a self-introduction. We’ll start with Doctor Marc Austin, the Executive Director of Professional Education, and he’s with Mason University. Excuse me. Marc?

Marc Austin:
Yeah. Thank you. I really appreciate spending time with you today. I’m Marc Austin, Executive Director for Academic Innovation and New Ventures at George Mason and I oversee a number of different areas, in particular, continuing a professional education.

Megan Raymond:
Excellent. And Doctor Deb Volzer, Senior Director of State and Workforce Development at Wiley.

Deb Volzer:
Hi, everybody. I’m excited to be here today. I work with Wiley and our engagement with state and workforce agencies across the country.

Megan Raymond:
Excellent. And David?

David Capranos:
Yeah. Hi. David Capranos, I’m our Director of Market Strategy and Research. What I really like about my job is partnering with institutions, governments, other actors to help design and deploy their learning strategies.

Megan Raymond:
Excellent. And Mardy, have you made it back to make an appearance yet?

Mardy Leathers:
I’m here, if you guys can see me. I am back.

Megan Raymond:
Excellent. Yes.

Mardy Leathers:
So thank you. I’m Doctor Mardy Leathers, I am the Director of Workforce Development for the state of Missouri. Really glad to be here and to be a part of the conversation today.

Megan Raymond:
Excellent. Thank you. Well, Deb, let’s go ahead and have you kick it off.

Deb Volzer:
Sure. Well, thank you, Megan, for getting us all introduced and we’re excited to discuss our findings on the current state of the skills gap and its impact on corporations’ critical business goals. But before we start, just to provide you a little context in case you aren’t familiar with Wiley, we are a 200-year-old family-owned company who has remained dedicated to supporting education and research, bringing to bear our expertise and working collaboratively with our employer and education partners as a bridge to create better workforce outcomes to unlock human potential through the power of education.

Deb Volzer:
So what I’m excited to present on today is the methodology of our most recent research study, and this is the third of our three projects. But before I begin, one of the things that I want to make sure that we do is that we make sure that we’re using the same definition to the term skills gap. The findings that David and I will be presenting today are based on the definition that the skills gap is skills employers seek that do not match with the skills that current job-seekers possess. So with that definition in mind, let’s get started.

Deb Volzer:
So is there evidence that a skills gap exist and that that gap continues to widen? For this research project and this survey sample, like we did in 2018 and 2019, we surveyed 600 US full-time HR and learning development leaders who have decision-making authority to determine if the skills gap is meaningful to them. The breakdown of response rates included a 15 percent engagement from C-level or executive level, the larger majority of respondents, about 60 percent, were senior, managerial or supervisory levels, and the remaining 26 percent are employees with no supervisory responsibilities. And for this past research, it was really important for us to gain a deeper understanding of how the different constituents within the corporate structure are perceiving and responding to the skills gap, their understanding of the role of education, how education benefits mitigate the skills gap, and at what level, if any, companies are incorporating education and training as part of their strategic plan.

Deb Volzer:
So let’s talk about who we engaged. Company respondents were from a diverse range of industry sectors and in fact, we broke them down into 12 categories and they ranged from technology, education, financial services and insurance, healthcare, retail, manufacturing. And of these industry sectors, the technology sector provided the most response rate and they comprised about 25 percent, with the other industries hovering somewhere between two and 10 percent. Those sectors with the lowest response rate were hospitality, telecommunications and nonprofit. Also, we should note the company size. So 59 percent of the company respondents came from companies employing fewer than 1000, up to 10,000 employees, 28 percent were from companies with 10,000 to 50,000 employees, and 12 percent of respondents came from companies with more than 50,000 employees.

Deb Volzer:
So David’s going to go into more detail in just a minute, but we can tell you with great confidence what hasn’t changed over the past three research projects. That is that there is the belief that the skills gap is real and that companies believe this gap is impacting their hiring process and their talent mobility within the organization. And what I can also tell you with confidence is that companies are shifting, and somewhat significantly, the types of education used for hiring and training to upskill, reskill and right-skill their incumbent workforce. And this is why we’re really excited to have this conversation today and bring experts, like Mardy and Marc, into the discussion. But before we engage Mardy and Marc, I’m going to turn it over to my colleague, David, to discuss a few of our key findings from the recent research.

David Capranos:
Yeah. Thanks for that, Deb. Like Deb said, part of what we’re doing is trying to get into these organizations and understand a little bit about what their needs are and how they’re addressing those needs, and so one of the first questions we asked are what are the skills that are most in demand? And obviously, this is aggregated data, so for a given profession or something, you’re going to have different skills, but in a broad scale, these are sort of the most in demand skills. And what we tried to do is group them by hard skill and soft skill, and part of the reason we did that was … What we’re finding more and more is these hard skills have a really short, half-life to them, whereas the soft skills can carry you through your entire career. So, understanding refresh rates and the need for upskilling and things like that is part of the reason why we separate these two groups out.

David Capranos:
You’ll probably find some unsurprising things here, that data skills, computer technology skills, skills like that are going to be really high in demand, so are critical thinking, communication and creativity on the soft skills side. It was interesting for us to slice through some of this data and find different kind of levels within the organization, like Deb mentioned. We asked a lot of C-suite folks what they thought the most in demand skill or what the hardest skill was for them to fill and it was creativity. So there’s some variants between where you are in the org and what you are looking to pick up, but generally speaking, these are sort of the more in demand type skills.

David Capranos:
Megan, if we can go to the next slide. Getting a layer deeper into the data, one of the things that we wanted to understand was how are attitudes changing over time around different ways of evaluating those skills? Right? So how do you as an employer evaluate whether a potential employee has that communication skill, that creativity skill or maybe that kind of hard technical skill that you’re looking for? And unsurprisingly, we find that the degree is still king. Right? It’s not unseated, we’re still largely looking at the degree being sort of the coin of the realm to be able to demonstrate that you’ve got these skills. But what’s interesting to us is just the real acceleration towards more acceptance of industry certifications and digital badges and some of these other kind of microcredentials that we offer that are below the degree and sometimes even below the credit hour.

David Capranos:
We also found that when we looked at how effective the different learning techniques were, similarly, the companies are saying hey, go to the university, we’ll give you tuition reimbursement, we’ll give you maybe a discount at a university, that’s a good place for you to go and do your learning. But as you go down that list, they’re almost equally as interested in boot camps and alternative types of ways of learning these apprenticeships, things along those lines, on-the-job training, increasingly getting more interest and I think that’s something that Mardy will likely talk a lot about too.

David Capranos:
So if you go to the slide here, Megan. The last thing that we wanted to share with you today, and this is a big report and there’s a lot of different data points within it, but we started off talking a little bit about what kind of skills are in demand and then where they’re getting those skills, but the last section here is where we were really focused, is where are the opportunities to connect and kind of be a multiplier in here? And so one of the things that we wanted to point out was only about a third of the places that we surveyed were actively working with a university to try to get these skills. So there’s an acknowledgement of yeah, we’ve got a tuition reimbursement program, maybe we bring in some outside training here or there, but we’re really not partnering as much as we probably could directly with a local learning institution to get the skills that we need to get to establish that pipeline.

David Capranos:
And then second to that, the other side of the page, something that was really interesting to us was just the low rates of usage on some of these benefits, right? So you’ve essentially got free money sitting there, often times, 5000, 6000 dollars a year for you to go and do some learning and very few companies had more than 10 percent of their staff taking advantage of that. Right? So, really sort of low levels. So for us, what we see is just a lot of opportunity on this page to really boost those levels, like let’s use some of that, those dollars, and let’s get more partnerships established where we can really, really find those connection points and get some of these skills for these folks.

Megan Raymond:
Excellent. Well, thank you so much for sharing that information and insights. And as you can see in the chat, there’s a link to the full report there. And I really enjoyed looking at it, I thought it was just enough deep data and insights without being too overwhelming, so you could really grab onto some key points and takeaways. So question to you, Marc, how well do we, in higher education, actually understand the skills that employers are seeking? And how do we get better signals from employers and the labor market?

Marc Austin:
Yeah. No, thank you, I think that’s a great question. I thought this report was also very interesting. I think the skills gap has only gotten greater and so being able to work with employers to understand what those skills are, how are they defined, what are the jobs associated to those skills, really help, as a university, align our curriculum to the changes in the marketplace. So, it’s a challenge. I’m not going to sugarcoat it, it’s a difficult thing to do. Let me explain a little bit about why I think it’s hard to do. Sometimes, it’s difficult to get a single employer to say, “Okay, here are the skills that I need, let me line them up for you.” And then you look at industry and it becomes even more difficult because industry has to agree on the skills that they need and definitions.

Marc Austin:
So one thing that we’ve done at George Mason that has proven really, really useful is working more directly with employers through industry associations, aggregations, employers. One of those is the Greater Washington Partnership, and they have been fantastic at doing something that very few companies, industries and others around the Greater Washington area do. They sat down to provide a list of knowledge, skills and abilities, KSAs. That’s how federal government, a lot of employers hire people. With that knowledge, we’ve been able to then align a lot of our curriculum in critical areas, specifically in technical areas, but I’ll get back to that later because it’s certainly … The soft skills, or what we call essential skills, are important too.

Marc Austin:
But to be able to understand and get that picture, holistically, from one employer, much less many employers, on what the signal is, what is the critical knowledge, skills and abilities, helps us to make what we do more transparent to the learner and ultimately more transparent to the employer. And that skills transparency exercise that we’re underway with, I think, is really valuable as an example of working really closely with employers, listening to what they have to say and making sure that there’s some alignment between the needs in the labor market and what we do as a university. It benefits everyone, from faculty to student to employer.

Megan Raymond:
Excellent. Thank you, Marc. And Mardy, you bring in the very critical perspective of the workforce at a state agency, so what do you see as the key role of a state agency, like the Missouri State Workforce Development Board, in bridging the skills gap between education and employers and workforce?

Mardy Leathers:
Thanks, Megan. Yeah. For us, this report was extremely intriguing and I love seeing some of the data and seeing how the data has updated, because this data has to be refreshed on a pretty routine basis. Kudos to this team for pulling that report together, because even 12 months ago, if we were looking at data, it’s outdated and so this is data that we really need to have because the social contract with work is changing and yes, the pandemic has accelerated what was already happening before the pandemic. But state agencies like ours, we work at the nexus of education and employment, right? Our whole job is to connect those two things together and to really focus on how do we help our citizens access sustainable employment, which leads to things like family-sustaining wages and a life of dignity and economic prosperity.

Mardy Leathers:
So, certainly, education and training have to be part of that equation, as does understanding the needs and aligning the needs of our employers to the skillsets that our current workforce has or what they aspire to have. Now, the challenge is really interesting right now is as that social contract with work is being rethought by so many workers, whether you’re an incumbent worker or you’ve been unemployed, this new focus is thinking about I was okay in this job maybe for a decade, but now I’m no longer comfortable in this job, or I was content with my associate’s degree in a supervisory role, but now I really understand I need to move forward because that’s not sustainable and the pandemic taught me a lot, or you know what? Life’s too short, so I’m going to retire because maybe I stuck around a little longer than before.

Mardy Leathers:
So now it creates this gap where all of our middle managers are moving up and we have an entry-level gap. Skills have to do with all of that, right? So what skills do we need on the top end and the bottom and middle end to make sure that we can help that natural cycle occur in our workforce system? And so that’s what we’re thinking about all the time and it’s that alignment. I love to talk about microcredentials, I love to talk about industry-recognized credentials, which is a federal term that we use to say that these are things that the federal government says we can use our money on, but also that employers agree to take.

Mardy Leathers:
We spend a lot of energy in apprenticeship and pre-apprenticeship programs, all registered programs, and we spend a lot of time on associate’s degrees and baccalaureate degrees and post-grad degrees, helping Missourians get on a path and understanding it’s also not linear. It’s not I graduated high school at 18 and then I go to maybe a two-year and then a four-year and then I get my master’s degree, but maybe I’m 24, I’m 29 or I’m 36 and now I’m coming back into school because I want to finish out my degree or I want to move to another career. And so those are the things that we’re thinking about that we have to navigate really from age 16 up to age 65, helping individuals navigate the workforce through accessing more skills.

Mardy Leathers:
And I saw a question here about LinkedIn and LinkedIn Learning and Doctor Volzer gave a good response. Employers that we talk to, they want to see that stuff, that helps you stand out, but that’s not going to make you hirable. And the one thing we have to think about when we think about education and training and certifications, there’s the what makes you hirable and there’s the what helps you be promoted and recruited and moved up? And the job market is very much about relationships still, and the higher you get in the skills game, the more likely you are to be recruited for a position than to be able to apply coldly, right? So that’s when those things really come into play, when you’re wanting to move up in an organization or make a move to another organization as a promotion because you’ve either been recruited or you have a relationship there that you can leverage.

Megan Raymond:
Excellent. Thank you. David, on one of the slides … Maybe Kim can take us back a couple slides to the point about what employers value when they’re doing a hire. So, David, talk about how employers are requesting more responsive and agile programs, including certifications and microcredentials, but they still highly favor traditional degrees. And I’m wondering if any of your analysis uncovered some of those anecdotes about that disconnect.

David Capranos:
Yeah. It was interesting to see for us, because we had this data, we were able to run some pivots on it and you really saw this difference between how sort of the C-suite and the executive leadership thought about some of this stuff and then how maybe more frontline folks did. And with both groups, there was an acknowledgement of a skills gap, but obviously the sort of high-level folks saw much more of a problem with it. Right? Or much more of a challenge. And it was interesting for me to see that their number one strategy was well, we’ll just hire folks in. Right? So if we’ve got a problem in our organization, we just hire new talent in rather than build. Right? Their first thought is hire in new.

David Capranos:
And so the question for me is always well, you’ve got already staff, you’ve already got people that know your systems, you’ve already got people that have loyalty and are physically close to you or whatever, a number of different things, and why not grow them? Right? Why not build them is something that I think wasn’t necessarily always their first priority, and I really think these sorts of smaller educational opportunities can be the thing that gets you … Almost like a finishing school, right? You’ve already got your bachelor’s degree, maybe you even have your master’s degree, but the market sort of has drifted over the time, like Mardy said, maybe that credential’s not fresh anymore, maybe it’s a technology that has a really short half-life. How do we sort of get folks to move along and progress in their career, I think, is a big part of where I see the opportunity here.

Megan Raymond:
Excellent. Thanks. And Deb, as the primary author of the Reimagining the Workforce report, what’s the most significant point higher education leaders should take away? What can they be responsive about now to help bridge learners’ skills and employment?

Deb Volzer:
Well, I think David just mentioned that and Doctor Leathers specifically identified it as lifelong learnings and knowing that the skills that you have, because technology is continually advancing and changing and because we have companies who are continually pivoting and bringing in either new technologies or new processes to maximize their efforts, we have to continue to educate and advance learning within and outside of that corporation and within and outside of our academic partners. So I think there needs to be a much better dialogue between what employers say they need and then list on job descriptions and truly what can be delivered in just-in-time learning.

Deb Volzer:
Are there ways that we can bring back alumni from our institutions and help them advance and gain the right kind of skills that they need to move up within the organization? And most specifically, how do we identify those individuals in our communities who are kind of stunted because of their lack of skills and be able to engage them, put them on a path that allows them, as either a working adult or an unemployed adult, to find the right kind of program delivered in the right way with the right supporting services to ensure that they can complete and attain those skills and quickly get back into the workforce?

Deb Volzer:
One of the things that I found most interesting during the pandemic and talking to several of our academic partners is that they had individuals who were coming back, who were highly qualified, that maybe lost their job due to the pandemic and were coming back and getting a type of certification that would allow them to quickly get back into the market. That may be that they’re going back from having a bachelor’s degree and securing a certification from one of the local community colleges or it may be someone who has a baccalaureate degree or a master’s degree who’s coming back in for a master’s certification that helps them pivot into a new and open role. So I think one of it is really understanding the needs of your immediate community, your regional community and across a state, what are the skills that employers are seeking, and how can you help individuals engage in a more timely manner to gain those skills?

Megan Raymond:
Excellent. And Marc, this next question leads from Deb’s point, but, often, graduates have great skills and they’re in demand, but they just don’t know how to articulate how those skills translate and apply. How can we, in higher education, help learners identify and highlight those skills?

Marc Austin:
Yeah. I think it’s so important. Before I answer that question, I do want to come back to a comment that I’ve seen across some of the chat in general, is it degrees or is it microcredentials? The answer is both. You need both. They’re both indicators of performance and skill and ability that employers use as signals. And we are in a role to flex on learning and so a university or higher ed institution, community college should never just be seen as a place you come to once, spend a couple years and go off, you really should come back and continually retool, upskill, retrain and use the resources that universities and community colleges can provide to help you continue your career. A career isn’t usually done after just one degree.

Marc Austin:
So to your question around how to make skills specifically more visible, this is a really important part of our discussion. First off, skills are difficult to define. People don’t always agree on the definition of a skill. And I think what’s really challenging for an undergrad in particular … So I’ll come back to maybe the degree holder. But for the undergrad, what do you do? You go through your college experience and you take some courses and you get a grade and maybe you get some credits and when you’re done, you get a transcript and a degree. And how do you use that transcript to get a job? Well, not all employers ask you for a transcript. Some do. But you’d look back at your transcript and say, “Gee, I don’t really remember what that course was all about,” or “Gosh, what did that course contain that was valuable for me to explain to an employer?”

Marc Austin:
So one of the areas that a lot of us are working on in higher education, not just Mason, is to map skills and align those skills to courses. Because we know that the faculty are busy building great courses that are designed to train and develop people for future, for their futures and for the future of the country, but they don’t necessarily explain specifically what skills you just acquired as a result of taking my course. So at Mason, we’re not only mapping skills, we’re also building a concept called the skills transcript that is designed to highlight to a student not only the grade and credits and other things, but the skills that they acquired in their major.

Marc Austin:
This turns out to be a really helpful tool for helping students decide on which major they want because it relates to a certain set of skills, that relate to a certain job, but it ultimately provides them with a tool, no matter where they are in their educational process, that allows them to articulate what did I get in this course? What’s the hard return on my investment in form of skills? And, the most important thing, to prepare them for the interview. Because when they walk into the interview, maybe they’ve got a resume that says, “Here’s a skill, project management.” What did that project management skill mean? How did I learn that skill? And so they’re at a disadvantage when they walk into an interview and they say, “Yeah, I took a course and it involved project management. That’s it, and that’s the end.” They don’t really demonstrate that they understand what it took to build those skills and competencies associated with project management so that they can get that job.

Marc Austin:
So we really believe that the process of skills mapping and creating that roadmap that leads to a transcript is an important way to make skills more transparent to both the student and to the employer. And interestingly, I think it’s very helpful for faculty to see what skills are contained within their courses. Doesn’t change their course necessarily, but it certainly helps them lift out the skills that they’re already providing. So, that’s part of that skills transparency model that we’re trying to build.

Megan Raymond:
Yeah. Excellent. And I’d love to learn more about that, so I’ll be following up. Mardy, this is a question for you. There’s growing momentum and there’s some really effective apprenticeships in process right now. How can higher education identify partners and some pointers on effective implementation?

Mardy Leathers:
Yeah, absolutely. There’s a lot of energy around apprenticeships. I’m certainly extremely passionate about apprenticeship programs. And I know we think of apprenticeship programs as maybe kind of the older model, where it was really just our skilled trades and it was about articulation agreements between our labor management organizations and predominately community colleges but also some universities to articulate back complete apprentices to receive some certifications or even degrees, but the model’s really changed quite a bit in the last six years.

Mardy Leathers:
Missouri’s been really progressive and very successful in modernizing and expanding apprenticeships. We’re very intentional about saying modernizing and expanding because while we still follow a registered apprenticeship model, meaning an apprenticeship is an apprenticeship and not anything else, it has to hit those requirements. For instance, if you’re an apprentice, you’re employed day one, bottom line, so you can’t be an apprentice if you’re not employed. That’s really important because a lot of the job-seekers that we work with are coming to us, they need a earn and learn model, they aren’t in a position where they can just go to school. So apprenticeship affords that and offers that opportunity to be working, but also learning. Those programs have to be at least 12 months long or 2080 hours of on-the-job learning and 144 hours of what’s called related training instruction.

Mardy Leathers:
Guess who has to deliver that related training instruction, which is a requirement of an apprenticeship? It has to be our colleges or universities. Yes, it can be third party providers, but I can tell you, in Missouri, we lean heavily on our community colleges and our universities to do that. Now, I come from a community college background and I helped design … This is probably going to be an arrogant statement, I don’t mean it to be that way, but I helped design the first community college system apprenticeship certification program in the country about six years ago, Missouri Community College Association put that together. And we did that because we wanted to have common framework and common curriculum across our 13 community colleges that would serve advanced manufacturing, construction, IT, healthcare, et cetera, and develop these recognized apprenticeship programs that you could take across the state.

Mardy Leathers:
That model was important because it put education at the center, so education had to sit down … And I love the chat, we’re having great talks about how you engage employers and employers need to tell us what they need and we all know they can’t do that very well, they don’t understand it. It really flips the model from when you’re not just a training provider or an educator, but now you’re a consultant, right? You’re a solutions architect. You have to sit down with that employer and help them do the skills inventory, help them determine what their needs are, and then you can design an apprenticeship program, which, by the way, we have 60,000 standards out there nationwide. You just pull out of a database and you make some tweaks, right? And the curriculum’s already built for you.

Mardy Leathers:
So education has to play that role, but where education has to get out of its current comfort zone is understanding that you have to be consultants, you’re going to have to go out to the employer and sit down, side by side, with the employer and help them understand what their needs are because they can’t articulate that. They just know they’re not getting what they think they need, but they don’t know how to say what they need. Apprenticeships are one way, not a silver bullet, but one way in which it creates that partnership. And now we’ve expanded into pre-apprenticeship programs, which, again, it’s not a pre-apprenticeship if it’s not directly connected to a fully registered apprenticeship program, to say there’s a lot of people who aren’t qualifying. We talk to employers that say, “You know what? We can’t hire them because they’re not ready yet,” or “They’re not going to be successful in this registered apprenticeship because they’re not ready yet.”

Mardy Leathers:
So now we’re able to do kind of that outer layer, right? Those vectors, if you will, to help citizens who don’t qualify for apprenticeship now or can’t be successful in apprenticeship, but instead of just casting them off and sending them somewhere else, now we’re saying listen, let’s get you into a pre-apprenticeship program which will help you prepare and help you be more successful. And guess who’s at the forefront of that? It has to be education. So at the end of the day, those partnerships and education being able to figure out and understand what business needs and helping business understand what business needs is incredibly important.

Mardy Leathers:
Apprenticeships are a great model to do that, but you have to think of yourselves as consultants, solutions architects, whatever buzzword you want to use, but it’s about sitting down and working with them to understand. Because pulling out the course catalog and the course schedule and saying, “Here’s what we offer and here’s what is in the degree, and sorry if you can’t … You got to wait eight weeks to start,” or “Sorry, that class is only offered once a semester every decade,” that’s not going to work. It really is that customized solution of sitting down and working with them. And that can lead to a degree path, which can be more formalized, but it’s the entry and the access and the starting point that makes the difference.

David Capranos:
I wanted to piggyback on this a little bit. It’s interesting, in our data, we found that something like one out of six employers allowed tuition as a benefit, tuition reimbursement, that sort of thing, right when you got started. Right? Usually, they want you to wait six months or a year or something to really kind of prove yourself before you start learning. And it’s really interesting to think about, Mardy, like you were saying, this learn and earn kind of model. I think a lot of the time when we think of an apprenticeship, we’re thinking about a really highly skilled kind of role, maybe a trade or something along those lines, but I think there’s also an opportunity for this to really help the unskilled market too. Right?

David Capranos:
We’ve seen some of the early examples of this with Amazon and Starbucks doing different models out there, where their frontline employees, as soon as you get in, if you can work 20 hours a week, 25 hours a week, we’ll give you that 5000, 6000 dollars a year towards your bachelor completer or whatever it ends up being. And I think there’s a lot of creative models out there that are possible under this larger umbrella of learn and earn. I love that phrase.

Megan Raymond:
Excellent. Well, I had a few more questions, but the volume of questions in the Q and A is quickly snowballing. And we did inventory people when they registered to see if they had questions, so I’d like to propose that we try and get through the questions that are in the Q and A and then we can follow up on those separately. But there’s a lot that we want to get into. And I, too, wanted to address this question that has gotten the most up-votes. In this conversation, we didn’t have a lot of time to dive into the whole student and the whole learner, but the question from Barnard is, “Is there an implicit notion in this discussion that maybe degrees don’t matter? Is it more certificate-selected [inaudible 00:36:47], et cetera? And the other flip side of that is why is so much focus on these credentials? Are we just trying to teach learners to learn?” I don’t know who wants to take that.

Marc Austin:
Yeah, let me take that for starters. It depends on the study that you look at and you’re looking at a skills study, but there’s also earning studies. Those who receive degrees versus those who receive just a diploma, there’s not a lot of data on microcredentials yet, will earn, on average, and that’s a big average, about a million dollars more in their lifetime. That’s historically true, and I imagine that that will change the gap between the diploma holder slash microcredential holder, could ultimately change, it’s hard to say.

Marc Austin:
One of the other interesting pieces of data that we’ve looked at pretty hard is that many, if not most, of the formal microcredential holders, and boy, there’s a lot of microcredentials out there, are generally degree holders. I’m sure that will also change, but what that sort of evokes is it’s an and, it’s not an either/or question, that degrees are critically important, I think, for many, that microcredentials are in many respects, in my mind … The way we’ve thought about it is smaller units of learning that are more digestible over time, that either ramp you into a degree, sort of the on-ramp into a degree, or, importantly, an off-ramp. If you haven’t been able to complete a degree, a microcredential can be awfully handy as something of value for the time that you’ve spent in a higher education institution or elsewhere.

Marc Austin:
And then there’s the lifelong learner, who already has a degree or maybe didn’t complete, that needs to advance. And a smaller unit of learning that is more targeted around skills that are in demand, literally backed by an employer, is highly valuable. It’s not just the university and the brand that’s associated to a microcredential that shows equality, but also a willingness of employer to say yes, I would like to hire that person who has that microcredential, that fills a skill gap that’s critical to us. That’s super valuable for the worker, that’s super valuable for the employer and, I think, ultimately improves national productivity. So I think it’s a both, it’s not a neither/or.

David Capranos:
Marc, we do a lot of surveying directly of students too. This one obviously was more focused on employers and sort of the HR, back office kind of stuff. But when we ask students how do you want to engage with your university moving forward, a really large amount of them tell them I want to go back, I’m really excited to go back and get … And I think a lot of the time, there’s just no product there for them to engage in. Right? It’s-

Marc Austin:
Yeah.

David Capranos:
They don’t want to come back for two years and 40,000 dollars, they want to come back for a couple of months and a couple thousand dollars, right? Something that’s going to be within their tuition reimbursement, that sort of thing. And so I think having those things available for them just from the purely there’s demand for it side is important to remember too. Outside of the fact that whether or not employers find these things useful, the students want to do it, people want to do it, people want to learn.

Marc Austin:
Right. It becomes this binary decision, either a big investment of time and money or nothing.

David Capranos:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Marc Austin:
But-

David Capranos:
Yeah.

Marc Austin:
And it shouldn’t be. It shouldn’t be that. It ultimately should be I can spend a certain amount of time and you know what? I’m technical, but I don’t know if I’m technical enough to make it to a master’s degree in cybersecurity engineering. So maybe if I took a microcredential to test out my abilities and skills in cyber that could eventually lead to a master’s degree, it’s a great way to test whether or not it’s a good use of my time and energy. So, I agree, it is missing and we hear the same thing from students. More relevance, more direct applicability, more experience, and something that paths me towards a degree that may take me a while to earn, but gives me an immediate return, not just a deferred return.

David Capranos:
Yeah. There’s also the earned admissions part of this, too, with … Not really today’s conversation, but some of these MOOC to credit pathways, some of these certificate to credit pathways, I think it really opens up for folks that maybe took a meandering path in their undergrad and maybe don’t have the best GPA, but they’ve got a lot of work experience and they’re really ready to get to the next level and-

Marc Austin:
Or I’ve been in the military, I should be able to convert that experience to something that’s relevant to what you do completely.

Deb Volzer:
Yeah. And I would say from the employer’s standpoint, one of the things that we were talking about or a question that was asked are what’s the relevancy of a four-year degree, where’s the pushback? We do have, just in our engagement with corporations, many corporations who are looking at what skillsets can be hired against that don’t require a four-year degree? And can I more quickly bring in a qualified worker and then put them on a path using tuition assistance to help create those career pathways within? So I think you’ve seen with … I think, David, you brought it up, Amazon being one that’s hiring, you don’t need a college degree, let’s get you in the door and then let’s figure out a way to put you on a pathway for talent mobility within the organization.

Deb Volzer:
So I think that is something that we need to be really cognizant about from the perspective of the higher education space, how do we best support and deliver the right type of programs in the way that’s meaningful for employees? So that’s one thing that I think is really important. And I think we also have to take into consideration, there are kind of two different philosophies for how corporations use tuition assistance. One is, David, as you said, bringing in that frontline employee and keeping them, retaining them for a longer period of time because you can use benefits so that they can secure a meaningful degree for them. So, that’s one philanthropic way of doing it. The other one is the business imperative standpoint of corporations understanding who do we need to attract, with what type of skills, what are the right kind of additional training and degree programs do we need to make sure that we can fill positions within our own organization?

Deb Volzer:
The problem that we’re seeing is that many corporations, even though they offer these tuition assistance, haven’t curated the programs appropriately and they haven’t marketed them appropriately within the organization, so you have a very low engagement rate from employees, where I do think that that’s where we’re not seeing these being as effective as they could be. And then the last point that I would say is, I can’t remember, Marc, it may have been you that mentioned this, having that ability to transcript education or training and using that as currency toward a degree. The more interoperable that we can make that currency of transfer, the better off we are going to be as an education community.

Megan Raymond:
Great. And there was a question in the chat and some conversation around using the Open Skills Network and the framework of Acro. So I don’t know, Marc, if you’re using those frameworks to map skills?

Marc Austin:
We’re connected to the Open Skills Network. We haven’t gotten quite as attached to the framework yet, but that’s certainly something that we plan to do as the framework evolves. It takes a lot to build these frameworks, that’s for sure.

Megan Raymond:
Yeah. I’m going to just drop the link in the chat so that we have it there for people. And then there’s a few of these questions that I think could be webcast on their own, including do higher degrees really guarantee a greater career? So we’re going to just table that for another discussion, but that is a great question and I think we all have passionate feelings about it. I do want to jump into how … And David, I think you touched on this a little bit, but how do hard communication skills differ from hard/soft skills?

David Capranos:
So around communication skills-

Megan Raymond:
Around communication, yeah.

David Capranos:
And sort of how they’re different or … So yeah, I think someone might be referencing … There was an earlier slide there that said communication is like a hard communication skill. Essentially, that’s writing, right? For a lot of it is sort of the demonstrable sort of communication skills that you might have that you can sort of prove in a really easy way. Communication’s interesting though because it pops up a lot on the other side, on the soft skills side, in a lot of the different things around collaboration and management and teamwork and leadership and all these other things, I think, essentially, at their core, are communication skills. So a hard communication skill is writing a press release, but a soft communication skill is running a group meeting, things along those lines. That’s probably where those breakdowns would be, as I see them.

Megan Raymond:
Excellent. Thank you. Sorry I didn’t communicate that better.

David Capranos:
Yeah, no, I got it.

Megan Raymond:
Here’s a question from Thomas Darcy, and he has lots of experience with this too, so I’d be curious if he has any comments in the chat, but what observations were made in terms of changing skills priorities associated with digital literacy, digital transformation and the needs of industry? I don’t know if …

Marc Austin:
It’s …

Megan Raymond:
Marc?

Marc Austin:
Yeah. I’m happy to jump in on that one. It’s sort of the end of the story about the Greater Washington Partnership because in our region, digital skills are critical, and there are two types of digital skills that we’re building that alignment between KSAs and curriculum and then microcredentialling. It was one of the things I didn’t mention were through the GWP, we’re building a microcredential in digital technologies and it’s designed specifically for the liberal arts student because right now, we have so many engineers in our region that there’s a limited [inaudible 00:47:27]. So, how do we expand the [inaudible 00:47:28] of talent in our region? One way to do that is to upskill those in the liberal arts, those that have great communication skills, that have great team-building skills, leadership skills, all the things that you normally associate with the liberal arts, and get them to talk digital.

Marc Austin:
And so through that program, we created a microcredential for the digital technology generalist. This is someone who’s a liberal arts student, who gets information security trained, who gets statistical analysis, data visualization and can now speak in digital terms. They’re not deep coders, they’re not going to be folks who you want to hire for your engineering team, but they’re pretty much everyone you want to hire in the rest of your business because they’ve got great communication skills or essential skills along with some of the technical vocabulary and knowledge that they need to be effective in today’s modern business world. I think digital transformation is the buzzword around Washington, D.C. Every organization, federal and private, is going through some form of transformation and needs those digital skills.

Mardy Leathers:
Yeah. To follow on Marc and to even underscore that, in Missouri right now, we have about 226,000 job postings. I get that number every day, that’s one of the things I think about. So I look at that, I look at how many Missourians are receiving an unemployment claim, which is about 412,000, and then I look at what is in the job postings. 79 percent of all of our job postings have the term Microsoft in them, whether it’s Microsoft Office, Microsoft Excel, Microsoft Word. We have a significant skills mismatch when it comes to that. We think of a lot of people who are unemployed right now, who maybe were in positions that, before the pandemic, didn’t require those digital skillsets, but now, to go back to work, need to have those digital skillsets.

Mardy Leathers:
So, we’re focused very heavily on digital literacy here and it’s a national problem, it’s a Missouri problem, it’s a D.C. problem, it’s an everywhere problem, like Marc says. We have to find a way to address that because even if you’ve been … I mean, even … I’m a younger person, at 38, and just because I took Microsoft Access in my undergrad, which I completed in the mid-2000s, 2005, if I got a job tomorrow with Microsoft Access, it doesn’t mean I still know how to use Microsoft Access because the technology has advanced so much, plus I just don’t remember what the heck I did when I slept through that class. It doesn’t matter what you’ve done. Even if you’ve been in work for a while, if it’s been one or two years since you’ve used Microsoft Excel, you’re behind. And so we constantly have to hone up our digital literacy as well as bring those who don’t have any literacy whatsoever as it relates to digital skillsets back to the middle.

Mardy Leathers:
The other point I want to make here is we focus a lot on … There’s a lot of talk about entry-level skills and those high-level skills, but the middle skills are really important. By the way, it’s very hard to define what middle skills are. We kind of look at middle skills are okay, you have a high school diploma or a HiSET, but you have not yet completed a two-year degree or higher. Somewhere in there, you probably have some experience, you probably, maybe have some competency training and education, and maybe you have some credentials [inaudible 00:50:44], industry-recognized credentials, but what is it that you have done recently to hone up? Can you use touchscreens on everything? Because everything’s a touchscreen now. And if you’re still using the older phones, you don’t know how to use touchscreen, then it’s very hard for you to work anywhere because everything now is touchscreen.

Mardy Leathers:
And so just understanding the role of technology and investing in our existing workforce to increase digital literacy among our existing workers is as important as those who are out of work to create that resiliency in our market. And boy, did the pandemic shine a spotlight on that. We knew it, but the pandemic now has just told us yikes, we have a productivity problem because we can’t get enough digital literacy programs up and running and done fast enough.

David Capranos:
It’s interesting, Mardy, there’s a component of our business that almost acts as a finishing school for folks that come from these engineering programs and stuff, but we’re trying to translate them into working for a large bank or a large insurance company or something along those lines. And it’s interesting because a lot of what we have to do is train them on the existing system and that existing system isn’t the cutting-edge one all the time, right?

David Capranos:
So it’s like you go into your undergrad and you’re really excited about internet of things and artificial intelligence and drones and all this other stuff, but then you get into the real world and it’s like I needed to learn about customer relationship management platforms and enterprise resource planning and maybe it’s not the stuff that’s really sexy, but that’s where the job is. And so, often times, too, there’s that sort of need to get people … Even the people that are really smart and really sophisticated, to get oriented back down to the things that are going to be the meat and potatoes type skills.

Megan Raymond:
Excellent. Well, I’m going to jump in here. We have 27 more questions to get through. No. Joking. But there’s a few that have risen to the top with up-votes and I just want to make sure that we can get through those in the next three or so minutes. So Jessica Adams asked, “What are the next steps for this report? I’m curious to see how workforce development and high school slash colleges will continue to evolve their partnership.”

David Capranos:
Yeah. So, Deb, I’ll lead this, but if you’ve got anything, feel free to jump in. But for us, what we’re really excited about is the opportunity, as a researcher, to ask the same question over and over again, which I know isn’t always the most exciting thing, but I think it’s really great to start looking at this on more of a longitudinal basis. And so full disclosure, we’ve been doing this for a couple years now, but we really retooled the instrument this year and so I think in our next couple years, it’s going to be asking the same questions again and again to track if there’s changes over time. So that’s what I get really excited about. But I think every year, there’s an opportunity for us to flex and think about what are big trends right now? So you can imagine questions about, in a post-COVID world, what’s going on, or if there’s new technology, that sort of thing, we’ll definitely want to incorporate that. But I think what I’m most excited about is to start seeing year-over-year data.

Deb Volzer:
Yeah. And I would say, too, David, the only thing I would add to that is we’re also going to supplement that with some industry vertical deeper dives, so we’re going to be looking at a specific sector across a state through an association to really understand what the needs are, how those are being articulated by the executives, how they are being understood by the employees, what are the fears, the barriers, the mitigating factors that are preventing employees to go back and secure additional education? So I think that’s going to be a really different kind of lens from which we can do some research and then try to pare those back and draw some correlations.

Megan Raymond:
Great. And Deb, while I have you, I know these insights were from 600 HR professionals in the US, but do you know how these skills compare globally?

Deb Volzer:
That would probably be a question for David more than for me. I haven’t looked at it from a global perspective to see how these align. I don’t know, David, if you have?

David Capranos:
Yeah. We have a little bit. And so we, as a company, have a global mindset. We’re kind of concentrated in certain areas, like the UK and Europe and Australia, the Middle East, and it’s interesting to see some of the other economies lean a little more to the technical than we do in some of these areas. And so it’s all turning dials and knobs, right? We might do a little bit more manufacturing, might have a lot more entry-level type jobs, things like that, whereas maybe there’s other economies that they’re maybe a little bit more professionalized or have a little bit more technology. So, there are some differences.

David Capranos:
I think the skills don’t change as much as the ratios of them, if that makes sense. I think that’s true across the states, too, right? I think a lot of the time, we think about wow, you really need these programming skills in Silicon Valley and maybe in New York, but the reality is is that there’s programming roles, there’s data analyst roles all over the country. We need a lot of these skills kind of everywhere.

Megan Raymond:
Excellent. Well, I don’t think we’re going to have time for any more questions. There are so many good comments and questions, though. I’m going to take some time sorting through this and then we’ll get back to you if we can. And I just wanted to say Mardy said it’s time for higher education to sort of flex and be uncomfortable, and I know we just went through a year of that. We were all in incredible uncomfort, discomfort and the cool thing is is that we realized how flexible and adaptable we are, so kudos to you all and I think this is our real opportunity to start doing some foundational work, if it hasn’t already begun, and then really starting to move the needle on these partnerships.

Megan Raymond:
So with that, I’d like to just thank our panelists, I’d like to thank all of you for participating. We had excellent, excellent questions, comments. I will clean up the chat and share that back out because I think there was a lot of resources that were shared in there. I don’t know if you all were able to keep a better handle on things than I was, but there was a lot of things flying by. So you can see the contact information and the Twitter handles for our participants there. And I’m going to go ahead and pass it back to Kim, who kicked us off today. So, again, thank you all and thank you, Kim, for making this happen today.

Kim Nawrocki:
Thanks, Megan. Thanks to our amazing panelists. I learned a lot. That was a great conversation. If you’re new to WCET, visit our website and check us out. We have a lot of great resources on our site and vlog. And we do archive all of our webcasts, so you can see what other timely topics and speakers we’ve posted recently. Again, this was recorded and we’ll send you the link and it will be on our website. Be sure to check out the full Reimagining the Workforce 2021 report from our partner Wiley and additional resources on their site.

Kim Nawrocki:
Save the date for November 2nd for our annual meeting. We’ll be announcing the program and registration in early June, which is somehow next week already, so we’ll be working speedily on that and get that out shortly. We will be hosting a one day virtual meeting and some pre and post-conference activities that are included with registration. I’d like to acknowledge our wonderful sponsors who underwrite our programs and events here at WCET, and also our supporting members. So one final thank you to our speakers and to our participants. Thank you for your great questions and engagement. Take care.

Megan Raymond:
Bye, everyone. Thank you.

Kim Nawrocki:
Bye.

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