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Positioning Higher Education Institutions to Serve the Corporate Market

The EvoLLLution | Positioning Higher Education Institutions to Serve the Corporate Market
Creating strong partnerships between higher education institutions and corporations enhances student success and can help tighten the skills gap that currently exists in the workforce.

The corporate training and education marketplace is incredibly lucrative, and demand will only continue to grow over time. But higher education is not alone in trying to serve this space. With fierce competition from all sides, it’s essential for colleges and universities to understand the benefits of robust corporate partnerships and to ensure they’re able to meet the needs of industry. In this interview, Gabe Clevenger reflects on what it takes to stand out in the corporate education market and reflects on forming relationships with employers.

The EvoLLLution (Evo): Why is it so important for colleges and universities to find ways to tighten their connections with employers, especially when it comes to ongoing education and training for employees?

Gabe Clevenger (GC): You don’t need to look any further than rapidly changing technical skills for an example of how a divide between industry and higher ed might result in negative outcomes. As the half-life of skills decreases, the gap between employers, the needs of their workforce, and higher education learning service providers, in general, has to be tightened. Likewise, higher ed must be identifying methods for delivering relevant learning at a rate far quicker than we do now. Frankly, a lot of the discourse around the skills gap that we’ve seen in recent years can be directly attributed to this kind of fracture between higher ed and employers.

Evo:  Main campus leaders tend to think about the benefits of strong Learning and Development (L&D) partnerships purely through a revenue generation lens. What are some of the other benefits that a strong corporate training environment brings to the table for an institution, beyond revenue alone?

GC: The desired outcome for higher ed down the road is a potential increase in enrollments, there is no doubt about that. It is often the main driving force behind any investment into these services. That said, the measurable benefits of strong, strategic partnerships extend far beyond enrollment and carry significant revenue generating opportunities and cost savings. It is important to note as well, that  strong corporate partnerships start to create a framework that serves both the traditional and non-traditional sides of the institution. If you are doing it right, there is a continuous loop created, from program development to graduation and beyond, with the student at the center and the primary benefactor of the collaborative efforts you and your corporate partner are engaged in.

These partnerships are also critical to building out your approach for other ancillary services that could be strong (non-degree program) revenue generators. With close connections to employers and subject matter experts in the industry, you can glean a more in-depth understanding of other potential programming options—new certificates or microcredentials that could be extrapolated from existing degree work. They may also offer opportunities to strengthen content, or align competency frameworks.

Evo: Why do postsecondary institutions tend to get overlooked as learning partners for corporations?

GC:  It’s not that we are being overlooked, but more so that postsecondary institutions are not making themselves visible in the corporate space. Unfortunately, due to their bureaucratic nature, colleges and universities are typically slow to respond to industry change and need.

There’s no doubt that alternative education providers have entered into the market in the last five years, and made themselves visible. They were able to fill a gap that higher ed institutions could have filled themselves, but didn’t respond quick enough. In that same vein, we were slow at taking our core suite of strengths, products and services, and re-imagining how to present those to an audience in need of agile, dynamic learning content and modalities.

The burden is now on higher ed. If postsecondary institutions want to operate in that landscape and be a part of what the future of learning is going to be—if they want to be on the front edge of new and dynamic learning investments that corporate L&D and human capital management (HCM) teams are making—then institutional leaders have got to be out there making themselves present.

Evo: How can an institution stand out as a preferred learning provider for an employer?

GC:Any partnership is a two-way street. You have to invest in a framework, people and resources to support a true collaborative partnership. The corporate partner has to be willing to engage in that work as well, regardless of the number of higher ed institutions they may be working with. It’s critical to have individuals working directly with the corporate partners, responding to their needs and exploring opportunities that come from these conversations.

There also has to be an understanding of what it means to be infused into the broader human capital management system or ecosystem. Such partnerships are not simply about opening up communication and engagement channels to drive standard enrollment into degrees or into micro-credentials and certificates. The more we can provide multi-point solutions and the more we can be woven into the fabric of the HCM at the organization, the more impact we are going to have. It’s important to stay mindful of the trends and the needs in human capital management.

How do we become part of the workforce planning process? If the end goal is for human capital management to have a defined set of solutions in their solution analysis, how are we weaving ourselves into that process so that they understand what their supply of talent is, their demand, their gap analysis? Are we providing any tools for them to do that work, and is the outcome of that work aligned with what our solution set might be? It’s important to not simply respond to the need, but become a resource to our partners.

There are areas where higher ed can align with organizational needs, developing content that’s going to align with their skill-gap analysis. Having an understanding around this is going to help us turn those needs into development of dynamic learning content, services and programs that are ultimately going to be most effective for the employee and the organization.

Evo:  From an institutional perspective, how can program credentialing be adapted and leveraged to meet the unique needs of corporate learners and employers?

GC: Moving towards nano- or micro-credentials requires significant financial investments that might come off as alarming to higher ed institutions. We need to consider the existing content, either sitting on the shelf or currently active, that can be leveraged in order to drive down the costs of development. Altering this content to make it contextually relevant to the learner and the current workforce can be powerful, but it is not the end game. Higher ed must also look for new and innovative ways to deliver learning. As the workforce, L&D and HCM landscapes shift, so do the tools they use to address critical needs like skilling, upskilling and reskilling. How are we plugging ourselves into those spaces? Again, this is where strong partnerships yield outcomes. Having a finger on the pulse of those needs isexactly the strategy for adapting and leveraging our solutions so that they meet the unique needs of corporate learners and employers.

It comes down to collaboration, the ability to understand what our core strengths are, and a willingness to invest in change. We need to rethink outdated strategies, reimagine our solution sets, and tailor segments of our offerings to meet the needs of those we serve. As more and more colleges and universities serve non-traditional students, who are also working adults, it becomes quite obvious how important it is to form strong, enduring employer relationships.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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