The COVID pandemic not only disrupted schools and colleges, it also amplified discussions related to the perceived–and real–value (or lack thereof) of a degree, and the surprising, yet not unexplainable, conflict between the number of unemployed graduates and jobs that are unable to be filled due to the lack of qualified graduates.
The accelerating convergence of information and technology especially as related to AI and robotics is changing the knowledge and skills desired in the workforce, with some estimating that nearly 50 percent of subject knowledge acquired during the first year of an undergraduate degree program is outdated by the time the student attains a degree. Recent estimates predict that by 2022 about 54 percent of all employees would require significant reskilling and upskilling to meet the needs of a changing work environment.
There is a greater need than ever before to provide increasingly specialized disciplinary knowledge, coupled with advanced workforce skills, without diminishing the role and importance of a broad-based education that ensures critical thinking and analytical reasoning along with social and communications skills and understanding. Simultaneously, in the context of millions of employees with some or no college and no degree, there is a need for academia to play an increased role in facilitating the continued employability of people already in the workforce through short-term credentials and certifications, enabling an updating of their knowledge and skills base.
This necessitates that higher ed treat education, writ large, as a continuum, effectively merging the previously distinct roles of degree-based education with that of individual courses and certificates offered directly or as part of continuing/professional education, and in doing so also encouraging the move from standardization to personalization with inbuilt flexibility in meeting new and changing needs.
While the discussion differentiates between coskilling (providing job skills simultaneous with, or integrated into, a degree), upskilling (providing advanced knowledge/skills within a job sector), and reskilling (providing a completely different set of knowledge/skills for a different job), in reality, the three merge in terms of needs and potential offerings, and are both coupled and overlapping.
1. Coskilling: The integration of knowledge (broad based and specialized) and relevant job skills into degree programs so that both facets are mastered simultaneously requires that institutions of higher ed focus on four key aspects simultaneously: (a) Increase opportunities for students to gain a well-rounded education intertwined with professional skills; (b) Respond at a significantly faster pace to the needs of the job market and be better aligned with advances in technology and information; (c) Create more flexible and personalized pathways for students to convert knowledge and learning to skills that result in earnings capacity; and (d) Change the “stove pipe” structure between academe and the workplace to enable greater alignment between the curriculum and new areas of workforce need.