THE BLOG
09/02/2014 02:31 pm ET | Updated Oct 31, 2014

Why Continuing Education Means a Partnership for Economic Growth

"You never change things by fighting the existing reality.To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete." ― R. Buckminster Fuller

If U.S. industries and our Higher Education Sector want to prepare for the future, the nation must stop relying on old paradigms to solve new problems. If we are to invigorate our economy, our institutions need to move boldly toward the future and embrace what technology means for our workforce.

Long gone are the days where a single four-year degree could take a student through an entire career as now most workers will assuredly face lifelong continuing education if they want to stay on top of their game. Prospects are bad for those without any higher education with one study revealing that high-school graduates were more likely to live in poverty and be dissatisfied with their jobs, if not unemployed.

During the recession, the decline was considerably more severe for those with only high school diploma. If we take anything away from this study, it is that a four-year degree does offer protection, but we should not consider that a guarantee that this will shield us for the next 40 years of our working lives.

Technology is rapidly transforming the global marketplace and innovations are coming at a furious pace. Businesses cannot expect a labor pool of talented and knowledgeable workers without expecting to invest in their future. Just as they invest in capital projects and infrastructure to support growth, businesses must frame continuing education as integral to their long-term goals. Not only do we need to encourage lifelong learning in our workers, we also need to create an environment where businesses understand how to invest their workforce.

Colleges, universities, and even government cannot view businesses as a group of independent entities of the for-profit sector that shouldn't make demands of higher education. Learning institutions cannot take a wait-and-see attitude; they must be proactive in their course offerings and delivery methods.

These three groups -- workers, employers and educational institutions -- must form an alliance if the US is going to remain a relevant player in the global marketplace. Both the business and higher education sectors are crucial to the creation of a dynamic, vibrant and expanding economy -- one in which American workers need to keep up their skills if they are to participate.

The way forward for workers and companies to stay competitive is through forming strategic partnerships with higher education systems in their communities, tackling targeted business problems together, co-creating specialized courses and sharing subject matter experts with each other that leverage solution from the combined intellectual capital of both partners. This partnership will succeed if workers budget for future skills development, or seek out employment with companies that offer continuing education programs. And those companies that do so are likely to find themselves with a real competitive advantage as they have their pick of top job candidates.

This trend toward lifelong learning is likely to grow. In 2013, the US saw a tipping point. For the first time a majority of college students, 51 percent, were nontraditional, meaning they were 25 years of age or older. These non-traditional students are workers who want a promotion, or those who lost a job and want a new one. These students realize instinctively what should be obvious to everyone participating in the global marketplace and that is that education matters - not just for students and learning institutions, but businesses, governments and entire communities.

As automation transforms industries, businesses are in dire need of workers to fill skill gaps, and if they can't find them on their own soil, there is a vast pool of talent in the global marketplace. A shortage of skilled workers is one of the biggest threats to any economy as companies are apt to relocate to where their labor needs are best met.
Schools must offer value to businesses by anticipating needed skill sets for the industries they serve, so that they continue to prepare students, both traditional and nontraditional, for real world concerns. Education is not just about boosting students' earning potential, but if colleges and universities are to live their mission more fully they must equip students to contribute in this emerging global market.

Dennis Yang, president and COO of Udemy, a marketplace for online courses, noted in a blog post on Forbes, "Employers report frustration at not finding skilled workers. . .49 percent of employers struggle to fill jobs. Jobs wait to be filled - current job seekers just lack the right skills."

Yang states that universities have to get faster at changing courses and keeping up with how the world is changing since education is no longer something that happens between set ages. He points out that to stay relevant workers must train nonstop throughout their careers.

How these courses are delivered must also change to serve the needs of a shifting student demographic, acknowledging that nontraditional students are juggling a number of competing demands. Both the business world and higher education must adapt to the challenge of keeping workers well trained by providing the means to acquire this ongoing education. It seems obvious, but if the majority of students are nontraditional, we need to create nontraditional classrooms and learning environments.

Businesses should consider the ROI of academic programs related to their growth areas and what it could mean to the success of their model. Schools will have to move boldly toward hybrid classes - whatever may drive the best outcomes towards preparing students for the modern economy. The key is forming partnerships between educational institutions and companies to design courses geared for their staff or industry. While higher education can provide workers with the requisite skills, businesses must be willing to invest in the cost of educating these students. In the idea economy where the real advantage comes from innovation, is there a better investment?

At Champlain College, we have joined a growing number of colleges committed to work with the private sector to collaborate, develop and consistently revise our programs to create better outcomes for the students and business models that most closely align with our historical strengths as an institution. Students, businesses and higher education all value the same thing, which is a desire to see a return on their investment. Because when it comes down to it that is what higher education is about, helping students build the chance of a better more meaningful life, from the time they graduate until they retire.