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Another One-Off Job Skill Program That Won't Work

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There's a new collaboration to solve the nation's workforce skills deficit crisis. Launched by AT&T and Udacity, the online education company founded by a Stanford professor, it offers the "NanoDegree" -- a quick academic program that provides the skills for entry level jobs at AT&T in the field of information technology. Unfortunately, it's yet another well meaning but insufficient solution to the problem.

Like all of its predecessor academic responses to our skills deficit challenge, the collaboration sets people up for career success and then cuts their legs out from under them by providing no way to achieve it. It (hopefully) gets them into their first job, but provides none of the skills or support they need to compete for the other 15 or 20 jobs they'll have over the course of their career.

As is the case with traditional academia, the collaboration will, in effect, graduate "career idiot savants." It will teach students a whole lot about the field of IT and absolutely nothing about how to build a career in that field. They'll know how to program and solve math problems, but not how to determine which job they should take next to continue their development, or how to assess their own skill set and remediate the shortcomings, or how to deal with a biased or incompetent boss, or how to network with their peers and gain stature in their field. They'll have one-off job skills but no sustaining career skills.

And, the tragedy is that the easiest way to overcome this shortcoming has been and continues to be ignored. As detailed by John Bell and Christine Smith in their book, The A+ Solution, America's professional societies and trade associations are rich in continuing education content (in IT and virtually every other field of work) and increasingly deliver that content online. If the AT&T-Udacity collaboration did nothing more than include a lifetime membership in an appropriate professional society as an integral part of their academic offering, they'd dramatically increase the odds of their graduates' career success.

No less important, many of those same professional societies and trade associations now operate online career centers that offer resources and educational programs designed to build individual competence in managing a career. They can provide the ongoing support required for sustained success in a dynamic and constantly evolving economy and act as a home base for workers' careers as they move from one work experience to another.

The "NanoDegree" is an interesting idea but the collaboration between AT&T and Udacity would be much more effective if it were expanded into a collaboration between the employer, academia and the nation's professional societies and trade associations. Such a "super collaboration" would -- for the very first time -- offer a developmental and support infrastructure that actually graduates students who are prepared not only to enter the workforce, but to be contributing members for the rest of their careers.