Creating a Latticed Approach to Education, Career and Workforce Development
The world of education is rapidly changing, and institutions must evolve and adapt to the needs of their students and the job market to stay relevant. As students reconsider the value of higher education and expect increased flexibility to scale between education and career, institutions must respond through educational innovation that advances the values of their academic mission. Our realities are also shaped by sociodemographic and employment data with cohorts of graduating high school students decreasing in size across different regions and with employers recruiting directly into positions with high hourly wages, creating significant competition for entry pathways into bachelor’s degrees. How, then, do we respond to the changing landscape in higher education and across the regions we serve?
Our commitment to educational innovation requires a latticed approach to education, career, and workforce that expands our academic portfolio to have more access points for the learners in our communities. To embrace a latticed approach, we must reflect on how we create a forward focused and purposeful educational ecosystem. We need to ask ourselves WHO can benefit from a college education and specialized training to ensure we have an extensive understanding grounded in a well-informed framework of our regional workforce needs.
Universities must be bold as we encounter the disruptions happening across the higher education sector, the changing demographics in our regions, and the emerging needs and expectations of our prospective students and their families.
At Shippensburg University (SU), located in the South Central region of Pennsylvania, we proactively and strategically build a latticed approach to education, career, and workforce development. As defined by the workforce investment board, the region comprises eight counties. The economy and population are growing in all eight counties, due mainly to their geographic connection to a transportation hub that provides access to more than 29% of the US population in a day’s drive. As a regional public comprehensive university that is a member of Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education, SU offers 250 industry-aligned undergraduate, graduate, certificate, and doctoral programs, preparing the future.
The labor market in Pennsylvania is extraordinarily tight. Job openings are high; however, the labor force participation rate is lower than before the pandemic. With the rise of automation and artificial intelligence, the job market is becoming increasingly competitive, and workers must be equipped with the skills necessary to succeed in their chosen field or move into new fields. Employers must upskill their incumbent workforce to retain the employees necessary to make a company successful.
To address both the changes in education and in the labor market landscape, SU moved the Career Center and the Office of Workforce Development (OWD), then known as Professional, Continuing, and Distance Education, into the same division and under the leadership of one individual. This strategic shift creates a seamless and latticed pathway for students from their initial academic program to their post-graduation careers. This approach also provides a more comprehensive ability to serve the needs of both traditional and non-traditional students.
Recently, the two areas were moved into academic affairs and are now housed under the Center for Career and Workforce Development. The two areas remain separate offices but continually build collaborative programs, processes, and events with a combined focus on talent acquisition (career services) and retention (workforce development).
This initiative, spearheaded by the president, Dr. Charles E. Patterson, and the provost and vice president of academic affairs, Dr. Nicole R. Hill, elevates the necessity of the alignment and demonstrates how the institution is a leader in the creation of a thriving and engaged workforce. Their leadership signals to the campus community and the regional economic and workforce drivers that a culture of continuous learning and development is required and heralded at SU and that the university stands ready to support the needs of the rapidly changing workforce. These strategic actions assert that Shippensburg University must be responsive to the increasingly diverse population of learners – diverse in terms of age, culture, where students are in their career trajectories, expectations of how learning happens, and especially what matters to them. If it matters to them, it matters to us.
There are numerous benefits to bringing the SU Career Center and OWD under the same leadership. First is a more holistic approach to student and alum support. Rather than only providing career readiness coaching and career development activities, the Career Center works with the OWD to identify the skills and knowledge in demand in the job market.
Similarly, the OWD can work with the Career Center to provide access to noncredit training, certifications, and certificates to help individuals stand out in the job market while adding to an employer’s toolkit of retention actions.
In addition, there is increased efficiency and cost savings in bringing these two areas together. By sharing resources and expertise, the Career Center and the OWD can streamline operations and reduce duplication of effort.
The SU Center for Career and Workforce Development has delivered several successful programs supporting talent acquisition and retention in just two and a half short years. Following are a few exemplars:
The GIANT Company Front Line Leadership Credentialing Program
In collaboration with The GIANT Company, Bake Crafters, Harrisburg University of Science and Technology, HACC, Central Pennsylvania’s Community College, and SCPa Works, the regional workforce investment board, the OWD created a Frontline Leadership Credentialing Program to address the workforce demands and career pathways of employees in the agribusiness industry. This 8-week program leads to a noncredit certificate of completion.
Customized Internship Programming
The Career Center is creating customized internship and experiential learning programs to support employers. The programming started with Hershey Entertainment and Resorts, to build out its Hersheypark internship program. Now entering year three, over 300 students from around the country have completed the program. Students work a paid job at Hersheypark and participate in twelve weeks of leadership development sessions that occur one day a week. Sessions include topics like leadership, networking, social media, and DEI.
Another partnership is with the PA Bankers Association, whose membership includes over 120 banks throughout the Commonwealth. The program builds brand awareness of careers in the banking industry. Students gain real-world experiences through project-based assignments that allow them to develop and grow as a person and a professional. Students learn about career paths that suit different skills and interests while employers gain access to interns to support critical job functions within the banks.
Early Childhood Education
SU offers a Child Development Associate (CDA) credential, a nationally recognized, competency-based certification in early childhood education. Administered by the Council for Professional Recognition, the CDA validates early learning competencies as working candidates progress toward qualifications. The program also offers a variety of supports to remove any barriers to learning.
Aligning the university’s academic program array with the strategic initiatives of the Center for Career and Workforce Development is crucial for SU to forge a path forward, tackle challenges directly, wrestle with how we leverage our resources and achieve our educational mission, and effectively prepare students for the realities of the job market. By prioritizing the alignment of academic programs with career readiness and advancement, SU is embracing our scope of influence and impact by affirming that the very purpose of education is to make positive contributions in our students’ lives, one of our core values as a university. Ultimately, this alignment increases access to self-sufficient living for individuals, drives stronger economic growth and prosperity, and positions our graduates to navigate the evolving landscape of their careers across their lifespan.
Author Perspective: Administrator