Industry Relevance and its Role in Student Success and Corporate Training

Higher education institutions need to form closer bonds with industries and businesses to succeed in the corporate training market by ensuring that programming on offer lines up with what is needed by potential customers.

Recently, I’ve read a lot about the lack of services available for adult learners. These learners need a different set of support services than traditional students, but the services they need, including child care, long-term credit counseling and help with job placements, are often unavailable. While this is an important concern, I worry that there are bigger problems facing adult students, chiefly industry relevance.

A recent research report entitled The Voice of the Employer on the Effects and Opportunities of Professional Development points out that instead of solely focusing on support services, colleges and universities alike need to work towards giving students the exact skills they need if students are to find long term success and rewarding jobs. It makes sense if you think about it. Today, skills are more important than credentials in many industries. If students are not equipped with the right skills, their degree will be of little practical use, regardless of how supported they were through the process.

A college or university that responds quickly to industry needs will not only attract individuals looking for employment, but they will also attract corporations looking for professional development opportunities for their employees. The research paper points out that 95% of corporations financially support ongoing education, with their spending annually totaling approximately $172 billion. However, the vast majority of this spending is funneled into internal training programs or allocated to external contractors. Colleges and universities are missing out on this critical revenue stream because employers believe that their programs are not relevant enough. The report revealed that only 16% of employers feel that there is an adequate availability of college or university programs tailored to their needs and only 9% of corporations are currently engaged in a partnership.

To me, this represents an opportunity for higher education institutions.

Employers are saying that colleges and universities must work more closely with industry in order to teach to their needs. Here is what a few of the surveyed employers had to say about the usefulness of higher education institutions:

  • As the world changes, we need to continue to educate our employees, especially as it relates to technology. The question is whether colleges can keep up with industry. If they can, then we will use them more.
  • Institutions need close consultation with business before mounting specific courses for specific industry disciplines.
  • Institutions need to offer classes more closely tailored to the real world. Universities should partner with companies to offer the curriculum that will make the students more valuable to companies.

Currently, structural unemployment issues are plaguing North America because the skill sets possessed do not match the skills needed. In fact, despite there being 9.3 million Americans unemployed, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that there was a shortage of 7 million skilled workers in 2010 and expects that shortage to climb to 21 million workers by 2020. This needs to change.

By working more closely with industry, higher education institutions will be able to produce graduates who are more likely to succeed in the workforce and more aptly skilled for gainful employment. Furthermore, institutions will open up a new revenue source through corporate learning channels. Transitioning higher education into the 21st century is a complicated issue, with numerous moving pieces. Tailoring programs based on industry needs makes up a critical piece of the puzzle.

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Readers Comments

Rebecca Cruser 2012/09/28 at 6:13 am

It’s incredible to think of the amount of money that’s being spent annually on training and development.

Despite the reductions to our funding and the amount of public outcry that goes along with tuition increases – universities are still happy to sit back and take the tuition reimbursement cut of that market, without considering the huge amount of internal training that we could be providing.

What a waste.

Heather Davis 2012/09/28 at 9:46 am

I agree with Rebecca and Shaul – this is a huge market that we’re simply missing out on. There was an interview published a few weeks ago with a L&D executive who said his company spent something like $30 million on training a year, and only $1 million went to tuition reimbursement.

It’s up to us to capture that other $29 million, and I think it’s going to take more business-minded thinking.

Quincy Bauer 2012/10/01 at 10:16 am

I think we need to improve our academic counseling services to match the non-academic support we provide.

Along exactly the same lines Shaul suggests, we need to make sure students are in program and content streams that lead them not only toward degrees, but toward careers. These counselors would also have the responsibility of meeting with program designers to ensure the course content is lined up with industry needs.

This way, we can ensure our students are prepared for the workforce as soon as they step outside the gates.

Judi Shabbat 2012/10/06 at 6:48 am

Shaul, I think you need to be more specific about what sort of college program you are referring to. I agree with you when it comes to certificate programs, but when it comes to degrees, I still maintain that there are core requirements that help turn college students not only into good employees but also into good citizens. That’s also one of the jobs of educators, and one that is increasingly being ignored today.

Judi, thanks for your input. I agree with you that it is important to teach students how to be good citizens, to think critically, to gain such skills as writing and to be well rounded. That does not change the fact however, that to be successful, they also need to be taught how to function in the workplace and to put their learned skills to work immediately. In some programs workforce relevance is all that matters, in others it is part of a larger picture, but in all cases, it must play a role.

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