How Higher Education Can Prepare Students for Today’s Digital Jobs

While colleges have continued to do a fairly good job of preparing students for the cognitive skills they need to become successful professionals, employers have changed. Systems and processes that were once physical or manual are now digital and automated, and governed by sophisticated new business software or SaaS platforms that require dozens, if not hundreds of hours of training in order to navigate them. skill. To prepare students for a post-Covid future, colleges and universities need to redouble their efforts to prepare them for digital jobs. But even teaching platform skills is not enough. Few employers are interested in hiring candidates who have just completed a training program, they are looking for relevant work experience. The good news is that there are two promising models for colleges to go beyond the traditional function of career counseling services to provide students with relevant digital education and work experience.

When the world stopped for Covid, there was a real sense of stasis or loss in higher education, as the remote experience absolutely failed to replicate or replace the immersive experience on the campus. But while higher education has stopped, the rest of the world has not stopped. In fact, the digital transformation of the economy has accelerated. In May 2020, David Autor from MIT referred to the pandemic as an “event forcing automation”, an idea that is proven prescient while companies redouble their efforts in digital transformation in order to engage remotely with all stakeholders (customers, suppliers, shareholders, lenders and especially employees).

As students returned to campus this fall and campus leaders tout a return to some (masked) sort of normalcy, it’s natural to want to throw Frisbees around the quad and put all the digital and distant stuff behind it. we. The headlines in the booming job market for college graduates make it even more tempting. Unfortunately, given the digital transformation we’ve been through, it’s the calm on campus before the storm. Colleges and universities urgently need to figure out how to provide students with digital platform skills and gain them relevant and essential work experience. Institutions that do so will position themselves at the forefront of higher education in the post-pandemic era.

Before Covid, higher education faced an employability crisis because almost half of all university students were underemployed. This crisis has been building for decades. As colleges have continued to do a fairly good job of preparing students for the cognitive skills they need to become successful professionals – critical thinking, problem solving, executive function skills – employers have changed. Systems and processes that were once physical or manual are now digital and automated, and governed by sophisticated new business software or SaaS platforms that require dozens, if not hundreds of hours of training in order to navigate them. skill. Within the company, each department or function has created an alphabet soup of SaaS: Pardot (marketing), Marketo (digital marketing), Google Adwords (digital marketing), ZenDesk Plus (customer service), NetSuite (finance ), Financial Force (finance), Workday (HR) and the customer relationship management (CRM) platform Salesforce, the Most Popular SaaS Platform in US Businesses. Salesforce told me that they believe there are between 300,000 and 400,000 openings in the United States for Salesforce admins, developers, analysts and consultants, with millions more to be created in the next five years.

Recognizing that a lack of talent trained on these platforms will hold back growth, companies like Salesforce have made significant investments in developing resources and training programs like Starting point. Corn self-paced online courses only work for a small minority, and usually not for those who need help the most in getting good jobs. So the question becomes: who is going to provide this training?

Employers themselves don’t seem to be the answer. Before the Great Recession, more employers were used to providing training to new employees. But due to the economic downturn, rising start-up churn rates, and the higher cost of bad hires, many large and medium-sized companies have abandoned entry-level training programs. Hiring frictions continue to increase for employers, and the prevailing view is that new hires should have the skills they need from day one.

Higher education institutions are also not responding to the bell. You can count on two hands the number of colleges and universities offering courses on SaaS platforms like Salesforce. Or consider Epic, the leading electronic health records system in US hospitals and healthcare systems. When you talk to your doctor and she’s not looking at you, but rather typing on a screen, there’s a good chance she’s interacting with Epic. And while it takes a long time for healthcare professionals to get used to the hundreds of features of Epic, learning how to configure or integrate Epic to fit into a hospital’s existing systems and services takes hundreds. of hours. The invaluable professionals who help hospitals do this important work are called Epic Certified Analysts. And despite the fact that there are approximately 50,000 unfilled Epic Certified Analyst positions in hospitals, healthcare systems, and service providers, no post-secondary institution in the United States offers a relevant course or program for these skills.

But even teaching platform skills is not enough. Few employers are interested in hiring candidates who have just completed a training program, even if they have a Trailhead certificate. They are looking for relevant work experience.

The increased pressure on relevant work experience is a direct result of the increased hiring friction felt by employers. The bar has been raised due to the increase cost of a bad rental, increased entry-level churn rate, and sclerotic hiring systems that screen hundreds of potentially qualified candidates. It is common knowledge that the best qualification for a position is whether the applicants have ever been successful in a similar position. But that’s a problem for emerging roles like SaaS jobs, many of which just didn’t exist before.

The good news is that there are a few very promising models for colleges to go beyond the traditional (limit) Career guidance services have the function of providing students with relevant digital training and work experience.

The first is a revolution in work-integrated learning, a revolution that is happening as a result of – wait – digital transformation. Internships have been around for decades, but integrating them systematically into lessons is difficult. This is why there is only one university in the Northeast, with its famous Global Network (cooperative program). But the emergence of new online markets for work-integrated learning allows each college or university to offer students relevant work experience as a synthesis experience in hundreds of courses. This is what Arizona State University (ASU) has done with its workplace learning market, which uses the Riipen platform to enable students to benefit from one million hours of experiential learning projects. While it is too early to see whether workplace learning helps graduates get better jobs, there is much interest in the concept; in just three years, Riipen has delivered over 100,000 workplace learning experiences with nearly 20,000 employers to students at over 350 colleges and universities.

The second is the emergence of a new set of intermediaries who partner with colleges and universities and operate what is called a “Hire-Training-Deployment” model. Take the University of North Florida (UNF), a public institution that serves some 17,000 students in Jacksonville. In June 2020, as many of its peers wrung their hands for the reopening, the UNF launched a one-of-a-kind partnership with Optimum Healthcare IT, a consulting company that helps hospitals implement and configure Epic. The arrangement allows new and recent UNF graduates – many graduates in biology or life sciences – to enter a 12-week learning program that allows them to acquire skills on several Epic modules. , and pays them for the time they learn on the job. At the end of the 12 weeks, the apprentices join the Optimum teams that serve the hospitals – in the hopes that Optimum’s hospital customers will eventually want to hire these apprentices for great healthcare IT jobs. So far, Optimum Career Path has launched the healthcare IT careers of more than 100 consultants who can expect to hit six-figure salaries within a few years.

ASU and UNF are just two examples of institutions that think beyond the needs of the here and now, preparing students for the digital present and future. Colleges and universities that redouble their efforts to prepare students for digital jobs will be in the best position to redefine higher education in the years to come. With so many immediate decisions about vaccines and masks, it’s not easy to do. But this is our best shot at building a system that actually serves students and gives them greater potential return on investment after years of paying sky-high tuition fees.

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