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Q&A With CAEL: Two Keynote Speakers Share Their Perspectives Ahead of the 2022 Conference

Collaboration is key, and nowhere is that more apparent than face to face.
Collaboration is key, and nowhere is that more apparent than face to face.

CAEL is all about connecting the dots – dots that become milestones along career and educational pathways. That can be challenging, much like putting together diverse pieces of a complex puzzle. But when those pieces align, they create a thriving ecosystem for adult learners that generates much more impact as a mosaic than an uncoordinated group of siloed efforts. Collaboration is what powers CAEL’s mission. Nowhere is that more evident than at our annual conference, where we get to benefit from the perspectives, expertise, and experience of thought leaders from every corner of that ecosystem. In that spirit, I asked two of our keynote speakers to share their thoughts as they prepare to join us in November. Until then, thanks for all you do to support adult learners. And stay tuned for more bonus keynote announcements!

If you could snap your fingers and make one immediate change (policy and/or process) affecting postsecondary education, what would it be?

Jane Oates, president of WorkingNation: If I could snap my fingers about a policy I would give individuals and training providers more time to report on outcomes.  That would allow folks who needed it to engage in longer-term training and most importantly it would encourage providers to stay with placed program graduate through their first 6-12 months on the jobs to help them navigate the world of work.

In one or two sentences, can you share a “sneak peek” about what you’ll be presenting at the conference?

Jane Oates: I am so looking forward to the conference and I hope that everyone will engage with me as we look at how partnerships have evolved and how they still need to change to address job mobility and all the aspects of quality jobs. I am hoping that it will be really interactive so we can all learn from each other.

Edafe Okporo, author of Asylum: a Memoir & Manifesto, gay rights activist, and founder of Refugee America: I’m speaking on the promise of life through education. My family views education as a one-way ticket out of poverty. I had pressure to succeed, so when I fled my home country to the U.S., the use for my education back home in Nigeria is limited in the U.S. To reenter a new society, I needed education in the U.S. This was my journey of finding the courage to borrow money, take student loans, take time from work, and merge family and school-related things to get an education in America.

I viewed education growing up as an opportunity to be versatile, broaden my horizon, and give me a better quality of life, to be inspired by the outcome of a young boy who grew up in poverty and became the first person in his family to have an education. With determination and persistence we succeed at meeting our goals.

Besides viewing your presentation, what’s the number-one reason someone should attend CAEL’s annual conference?

Jane Oates: Setting aside my conversation, participants will learn from the best presenters and the amazing attendees. At CAEL you are surrounded by people who DO the work, who get it and are just as passionate as you are. There are very view on-lookers at a CAEL conference!

Edafe Okporo: Networking with people who are in your industry is priceless, being inspired by speakers and an opportunity to meet someone who can guide you in your journey. Finding a mentor in achieving your big goal, creating a community of like-minded people to continually inspire you and make the change you want in the world.

What’s one piece of advice you would give to an adult who needs to upskill or reskill but is uncertain of where to begin?

Jane Oates: Every adult is nervous about taking that first step back to retraining. They are embarrassed, which we all know is unnecessary but it is real. Whether they are dislocated or whether they have just made the decision to move from an “it’s a job to pay the bills” into a salaried career pathway, change is HARD. So you have to find a training provider who respects you as a talented individual, has the skills to help you define that career pathway, and has the employer connections to facilitate an interview when you are prepared. Don’t settle for less.

Edafe Okporo: The most used app on the internet right now is Tik-Tok. It was founded in 2016, barely six years ago. The need for upskilling is not limited to adults, but today’s work environment is going through rapid changes. The need for upskilling to meet the jobs of the present is a gap that will require both corporations and individuals to realize the need for those upskills to put themselves in a position to succeed.

I will advise you to begin with a fresh start. The fresh start effect can be a way to kick start a new ambition like returning from the pandemic might be an opportunity to turn things around or the beginning of a new season, spring, fall, summer, or a new year. My partner did it, at the beginning of the new year 2020, he wrote a vision board for a fresh start in June of 2022. We celebrated his graduation from Borough of Manhattan College!

Can you make one contrarian prediction about the future of postsecondary education and/or workforce development?

Jane Oates: I think hiring is going to move quickly to a skills-based approach. Employers are spending time and money to define jobs by skills rather than title and looking to hire people ready to work on day one. Traditional educational providers are going to have trouble keeping up with their speed. I’m cheering for the traditional IHEs because I think a world with improved traditional colleges plus the innovative new players is one that offers the most opportunities for learners and that is my dream.

Edafe Okporo: Education is changing, there will be gaps in education filled by online courses, and the hybrid model of learning will be more consistent than the brick wall model. We are becoming less focused on the four-year degree as a society and the need for skilled workers like social media content developers who do not have a bachelor’s or master’s degree.

Anything else you’d like to add?

Jane Oates: With all the excitement about change and the opportunity that some of those changes offer, I think it has never been more important to actively engage with trusted associations, intermediaries, and organizations. In times of great churn it is critical to get your information from a reliable, time-tested source. Whether it is getting a straight message, analyzing data on new strategies, or just wading through the hype, stick with those your trust.

Edafe Okporo: Be prepared to experience moments of hope and inspiration for the present and see a possibility of a future coming out of almost three years of quarantine and fears of our future. I hope to contribute to the culture CAEL has built a community of like-minded people.

Author Perspective: