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Upskilling and Reskilling Society with Jobs-Focused Education

Modern learners are looking for short-term programming that will keep them competitive in the workforce, requiring higher education to realign to meet this growing demand. 

Preparing students for the workforce and ensuring their skills are relevant for the evolving market is what higher education is intended to do. To execute on this mission requires the right programming for the right learner at the right time. In this interview, Kemi Jona discusses the importance of jobs-focused education, creating effective programming to match and the impact this type of education has on the economy. 

The EvoLLLution (Evo): Why is it important for higher ed to focus on developing and scaling jobs-focused education?

Kemi Jona (KJ): Higher education plays several important roles in our society, including helping develop the educated citizenry our democracy requires. Certainly, preparing people for the workforce is an important role and a historically essential one. To the extent that the public begins to lose confidence that higher ed is key to future employability, it will lose that important role and people will look elsewhere.  This is already happening as Google, IBM, Microsoft and other tech firms roll out training and certificates that can in some cases substitute for a degree.

Evo: What are the challenges to creating programming that is fast, jobs-focused and prioritizes upskilling and reskilling?

KJ: For higher education to play a role in the upskilling and reskilling marketplace, it must be able to respond at the pace of the business world.  Companies are looking for solutions they can implement within 30, 60 or 90 days—not a year or longer.  Another challenge for higher ed is responding to what employers say they need in terms of skills, rather than only listening to faculty. The entire focus must change from internal to external.  Until a college or university is prepared to respond and move quickly, it isn’t ready to compete in the upskilling/reskilling sector.

Evo: What are some best practices to effectively create this programming to meet market demand?

KJ: Creating a high-performing team oriented toward partnerships and responding to customer needs is key.  Another best practice consists of tapping into labor market data to understand where the high growth/high demand occupations are, what the market size is regionally or nationally and which specific skills are hardest for employers to find.  Finally, building non-credit programming that can stack into larger academic credentials is a great both/and strategy that can benefit the learner in the near term and help them advance their career goals over the longer term.

Evo: What impact does jobs-focused education have on the institution and economy? 

KJ: Post-COVID, we are seeing the labor market rapidly realign due to an accelerated adoption of technology as well as changing preferences in the workforce. Higher ed can play an important role in helping people develop the skills they need to transition into better jobs while helping employers find the skilled talent they are seeking.  This reskilling effort benefits the overall economy and can help higher education institutions diversify their revenue streams beyond traditional two- or four-year students. The more crucial a role higher ed can been seen as playing in helping workers, employers and the overall economy, the more it helps establish higher ed’s importance in the fabric of our society. 


This interview was edited for length and clarity. 

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