Partnerships to help narrow the skills gap

The effects of expected Baby Boomer retirements on certain occupations and industries already have created a pressing need for younger front-line workers to fill vacated positions, many of which require relatively high levels of knowledge and skill.

In efforts to combat these anticipated gaps in middle management, many employers are ramping up their educational partnerships and tuition reimbursement programs. While such programs can be critical, they may not provide the motivation employees need to attain the credentials necessary to fill critical gaps. Going back to school is costly, yes, but tuition reimbursement programs often are underutilized, with only about 5 percent of employees taking advantage of the benefit (Zappa, J., 2012, August 19, “Why you should invest in tuition assistance,” Chief Learning Officer; retrieved at In addition, many institutions already are offering discounted tuition for partnering with employers, so it’s clear there’s more at work here than just cost in terms of deterrents.

Time May Be the Real Culprit

A key factor in the success of engaging working adults in educational pursuits is to reduce the time required to attain the credentials they need to move into new roles.

A proven way to decrease time to degree is for workplace training and industry certification programs to be evaluated for college-level equivalency, coupled with enabling employees to gain college credit for their individual prior learning experiences. Structured on-the-job training programs that clearly delineate learning outcomes and offer ways to measure employee learning can be evaluated for college credit that then can be clearly articulated into college certificate and degree programs.

A well-touted example, of course, is Starbucks’ partnership with Arizona State University, whereby employees are awarded academic credit for their Starbucks’ training through a credit evaluation provided by the American Council on Education. Likewise, supply chain and logistics employees can receive college credit recommendations for the successful completion of APICS or MSSC courses approved by the National College Credit Recommendation Service.

Similar programs exist between employers and institutions all over the globe, but employers needn’t rely only on third-party evaluations to extend this benefit to their employees. Some institutions are equipped to provide low or no cost academic credit evaluations of training in order to attract and retain motivated adult students. Such credit awards are generally only valid at the institution conducting the evaluation; however, some institutions also offer a credit-bank option allowing students the opportunity to potentially apply that credit elsewhere if desired.

In addition, more colleges and universities are recognizing the value of the skills and knowledge individual employees already have acquired in various roles and have created credit-bearing courses that teach employees how to substantiate their prior learning by creating portfolios. Those portfolios then are assessed by faculty and awarded credit when applicable. To supplement these methods, many institutions will grant credit for subject matter examinations such as UExcel or CLEP, thus, allowing employees to prove their mastery of material and avoid costly, time-consuming duplication of learning activities.

Education Benefits

Of course, the benefits of an educated workforce go beyond simply preparing employees for promotions or to fill in gaps. Investing in your employees’ education through these initiatives results in increased return on investment for your internal training programs and ensures the presence of critical skill sets employees need to excel in all levels of the organization.

Amid recent debates about the value of a college education, one thing remains indisputable: People holding a college degree are, in general, happier, healthier, and more productive members of society (Baum, S., Ma, J., and Payea, K., “Education Pays 2013: The benefits of higher education for individuals and society,” Trends in Higher Education Series, The College Board; retrieved at…). College-educated employees have better writing skills, understand issues surrounding diversity, and are better able to work in a team environment. More than 9 in 10 of employers surveyed say it is important that employees demonstrate key skills evident in a college education: ethical judgment and integrity, intercultural skills, and the capacity for continued new learning. Employers also endorse several educational practices that lead to workplace success. These include practices that require students to conduct research and use evidence-based analysis; gain in-depth knowledge in analytic, problem-solving, and communication skills; and apply their learning in real-world settings (“It Takes More than a Major: Employer Priorities for College Learning and Student Success,” 2013, Washington, DC: Association of American Colleges and Universities and Hart Research Associates).

Effective partnerships among business, industry, and higher education that build on a person’s existing knowledge and provide a means to apply and measure new knowledge that can lead to college-level credentials are key to helping employees attain the skills they need, to filling anticipated gaps in the workforce, and to increasing the return on your training dollars.

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Sourced from Training Magazine.