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 Bridging the Gap between Higher-Ed Models & Employers’ Talent Demands

In a rapidly changing job market, it’s crucial that students graduate from colleges and universities with the tools they’ll need to be successful in the workforce. But what is it that will best equip those students for success? And how can employers communicate their needs to higher education institutions?
These are some of the questions Northeastern University’s Sean Gallagher has been studying for years. He’s an executive professor of educational policy and executive director of the newly launched Center for the Future of Higher Education and Talent Strategy. He was recently interviewed on this topic by Northeastern on its website at news.northeastern.edu.
The Center is the first applied research initiative of the Professional Advancement Network, is academically affiliated with the College of Professional Studies at Northeastern University, and will collaborate with faculty and staff across the university. Research at the new center will help to inform how universities and employers partner to prepare the workforce of the future.
“Much of our work with the Center for the Future of Higher Education and Talent Strategy will be focused on bringing the voice of employers into higher education, and creating new forums, exchanges and even software interfaces to inform higher education offerings and policies,” Gallagher explains.
His own on-going research shows that a bachelor’s degree alone may not be enough to ensure long-term success in the workplace - that to be better prepared for life after college, students should never really stop learning. They should pursue additional credentials or educational experiences, and in this way, remain life-long learners.
“In the future, there will be much less distinction between learning that occurs on the job and the traditional notions of academic credit and accredited credentials,” says Gallagher, whose book, The Future of University Credentials also explores these questions.
He points out that, in recent years, university credentials have become increasingly valuable in the job market. At the same time, universities have faced pressure to make their programs more relevant and affordable, and notably, new competitors to traditional higher education models have emerged.
“These and other trends - especially in terms of what employers value and what students are demanding - suggest a future where university credentials are more modular, more industry-aligned and experiential, and more digital,” says Gallagher.
“Degrees still dominate, but for the first time we’re seeing many traditional higher education institutions develop entirely new forms of credentials while exploring new ways to deliver and earn credentials.”
Examples include “nanodegrees,” “micromasters” and the increasing popularity of graduate certificates as well as “digital badges.”
Gallagher feels the best way for universities to prepare students for these changes and for the rapidly changing demands of the workforce they’re entering is to provide versatility.
“Technical skills are certainly in high demand, but foundational skills and competencies such as critical thinking, writing and leadership are the hardest for employers to find,” says Gallagher.
“Another important element is engagement in the world of work - compiling experiences and project outcomes and portfolios that employers highly value when they hire, and which complement the degree.”
In the future, he also sees more exchange between industry- and employer-run training programs and alternative credential programs run by traditional higher education institutions.
“Programs offered by universities tend to be longer lasting and are more respected and portable - and they’re backed by the value of accreditation. However, many employer-run training offerings and professional credentials from industry groups are world-class,” Gallagher concludes.
“Regardless, university degrees are seen by most employers as a foundational job qualification - the true ‘coin of the realm,’ and of paramount value in the market.”
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