Jobs, Education and the Learner/Worker – Inside Higher Ed


How do we make sense of all that is being written and said about the linkage between education and employment? Certainly, we are seeing effects of a shift toward increased value in education that is most relevant and responsive to employment. We can see that in the job market — in both salaries and position openings. We can see the linkage in competency-based learning initiatives springing up at colleges and universities, both large and small, across the country.

But where do these patterns point in the longer term?

I really appreciated the approach (and title) of an Indianapolis Recorder report, “Don’t Let Your Diploma Hit Its Expiration Date”; it succinctly sums up the situation. Long gone are the days that a diploma marked the end of necessary education. The learning in many, if not most, fields “expires” and becomes dated due to the advances in technology and changing needs of society. The job market is rapidly changing.

What are the highest-demand jobs that the Federal Reserve has identified? They include engineering, finance, sales, construction and manufacturing, and information technology.

The Fed publishes the Beige Book, more formally called the Summary of Commentary on Current Economic Conditions, that comes out eight times a year, just prior to each regular Fed Reserve meeting. The September Beige Book summarized conditions as tight:

While construction workers, truck drivers, engineers, and other high-skill workers remained in short supply, a number of Districts also noted shortages of lower-skill workers at restaurants, retailers, and other types of firms. Employment grew modestly or moderately across most of the nation, though Dallas noted robust job growth, while three Districts reported little change that partly reflected a dearth of applicants. Six of the twelve Districts cited instances in which labor shortages were constraining sales or delaying projects. Wage growth was mostly characterized as modest or moderate, though a number of Districts cited steep wage hikes for construction workers. Some Districts indicated that businesses were increasingly using benefits — such as vacation time, flexible schedules, and bonuses — to attract and retain workers, as well as putting more resources into training.

Jobs in these fields are tight and, yet, employer requirements are tightening even further. No longer willing to accept the standard-issue college graduate, employers are increasingly looking to hire those persons with a relevant set of professional skills, including soft skills such as leadership and communication.

Half of the Fed districts note that (qualified) labor shortages were constraining or delaying projects. Also worth noting is that businesses in some districts were putting more resources into training. That’s a wake-up call for all of us in continuing, professional and online education. Why are employers increasing their training and not turning to us to coordinate and provide that training?

So what are we doing to change this situation of employers expanding their own professional development? This should trigger further outreach to business and industry regionally and beyond to see what we can do to meet the changing needs. We should recognize the 60-year-learner vision that Harvard’s Hunt Lambert, the University of Washington’s Rovy Branon and other leaders in our field have championed as an approach to meet the evolving needs in our field.

The Georgia Tech Commitment to a Lifetime Education recognizes the needs of the learner/workers are changing and will continue to change throughout their lifetimes; those institutions that recognize and adapt to these needs will thrive in the future.

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