In the ongoing drama of today’s historically tight labor market, professional development is once again in the spotlight.
At a time when employers are pulling every lever they have to attract and retain workers, a well-designed education benefit can be a competitive differentiator. Not only that, but it can provide employers with a double advantage by both incentivizing workers to stay and producing a more versatile, skilled workforce.
While some blue chip companies will take the DIY approach by rolling out their own custom upskilling programs (e.g. IBM, Google, Salesforce), many employers are eager to lean on the resources and expertise of trusted education providers for professional development solutions. Wiley’s recent Reimagining the Workforce report shows that 64% of employers believe tuition reimbursement or scholarships are “extremely effective” or “very effective” solutions for upskilling/reskilling (vs. 44% for bootcamps!). And recent articles have celebrated both current examples and future potential of close collaboration between education and industry.
Educational institutions that are willing to partner with employers on continuing and professional education programs can see multiple benefits of their own: A reliable enrollment pipeline coming from the employer. Strong employment outcomes for learners who secure promotions or raises after completion. And a work-aligned curriculum that can serve as the foundation for strengthening or starting other programs beyond the scope of the original partnership.
The key to unlocking these win-win partnerships is alignment. And alignment requires clarity in three essential areas:
The employer’s current talent profile
The employer’s hiring needs
How your curriculum maps to those needs
In this article, we’ll show how you can use market data to achieve clarity in each of these areas, and even expand your pool of potential partners for the future. Let’s dive in.
1) The employer’s current talent profile
Many institutions already know an employer or two that they’d like to partner with (though even if you think you know, it’s good to be open minded — more on that later). If that’s the case, it makes sense to start by focusing your research on that key employer.
In particular, begin by assessing the present state of their workforce. After all, their current workers are your (potential) future students. Knowing these individuals’ job roles, skills, and educational background can help you better understand how to serve them moving forward.
For example, let’s say you’re an institution in Washington or Idaho, trying to assess a partnership opportunity with Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories (SEL), headquartered in Pullman, WA. Using professional profile analytics in the Analyst platform, we can quickly pull some key data points. It’s a bit like taking an x-ray of the company’s workforce so you can see how they’re structured on the inside.
Here are the top occupations for SEL employees in Washington and Idaho:
Right away, we can see an interesting mix of job types. The top three occupations show us the prevalence of software developers writing and testing code, the assemblers and fabricators doing hands-on work on the manufacturing floor, and the managers supervising teams of engineers.
To get more precise, we can drill down to the actual job titles reported by workers at the company:
Among other benefits, this will help us “speak their language” when engaging company leadership in conversations about their unique priorities. It can also inform marketing and recruitment efforts when it comes time to reach out to these workers with targeted messaging about how your institution can help them advance in their career.
Digging deeper, here are the top skills employees list on their professional profiles and resumes:
How does this inform our partnership strategy? In at least two ways. You can think of these skills as:
The skills current workers have but might need to further develop (e.g. becoming a “power user” of a specific software tool).
The skills workers need for their current role, but which need to be supplemented by new skills in order for them to take the next step, or make a pivot, in their career path.
To validate number one, you’ll want to talk with the employer to better understand how those skills are used within the organization. For number two, we can use job postings to gauge the emerging skills that the employer is looking to add. (See below)
And finally, it’s worth asking where these employees went to school. It can be helpful to know how big of an alumni footprint you already have at the organization. If the answer is “a small one,” then it’s good to know who you might be competing (or partnering!) with when it comes to offering continuing education.
2) The employer’s hiring needs
Of course, understanding an organization’s current state is just one side of the coin. To be a good partner, you’ll need to help them get from where they are, to where they want to go.
For this, we turn to job postings data. A company’s postings give us insight into the positions they are trying to fill, either because their current workforce doesn’t have the skills to fill those roles, or simply because they don’t have enough people with those skills to operate at their desired scale. In either case, it shows us how they’re investing for the future.
Again, if we have a particular company in mind, we can use the company talent profile report to quickly assess their top hiring priorities and other key data points. For example, here are postings trends, by occupation, for General Dynamics in the state of Indiana:
We can clearly see the explosion in demand for computer and math roles over the past year, but also strong growth in postings for roles focused on core business functions (business / financial operations, management, and related support roles).
In the job posting analytics report, we can see the actual titles used in these postings:
There’s at least three themes emerging here:
Software Developers, Systems Engineers, Network Engineers – Roles focused on not just creating software, but also building and maintaining the technical infrastructure that makes successful development possible.
DevSecOps Engineers and Information Security Analysts show the emerging demand for cybersecurity.
Cloud Developers and Cloud Program Managers – We see cloud developers and cloud program managers rounding out the bottom of the top 10 in-demand roles, reflecting the growing importance of cloud computing in the economy.
But what about the specific skills they’re looking for? The company talent profile shows us how those trends are evolving quarter by quarter as well:
Knowing how demand for these skills has evolved over the past year provides a good jumping off point for talking to General Dynamics’ leadership about how to best meet these needs through concentrations, certificates, or stackable credentials. The type of education you offer, and how quickly you can launch the program, will largely depend on how well your existing offerings already align with these in-demand areas. Which brings us to our final point…
3) How your curriculum maps to those needs
A third critical piece of the employer partnership puzzle is ensuring that your curriculum aligns with the employer’s needs so they have a compelling reason to trust you with their professional development needs. This may simply be a case of documenting and demonstrating alignment that already exists. But it may also require some tweaking and adjusting to achieve precision alignment of sought skills and taught skills.
While you’ll absolutely want to finalize these decisions in close collaboration with the employer, you can lay a foundation for productive, data-driven discussions by skillifying curriculum in advance (if you’re not familiar with the term, “skillifying” is short-hand for surfacing the work-relevant skills you teach, cataloging where you teach them, and validating how they align with market demand).
For example, using the Skillabi platform, you could take an actual job posting from your prospective employer partner and parse it to see where the skills it mentions show up in the courses you currently offer:
Expanding the partnership pool
How do you expand your pool of employer partners so you can tap into more industry expertise, make a greater impact on the community, and grow enrollment? It’s a common question for institutions that see the value of close collaboration with industry. Fortunately, data can help here too.
First, you can look at common employment pathways to identify the top “feeder” and “destination” companies in relation to a current (or prospective) partner. Knowing where people work before and after their tenure with a potential partner helps you zoom out to see where similar skill sets (and education needs) may exist in the market.
For example, here’s a look at common job transitions to and from financial services giant Capital One:
Unsurprisingly we see Capital One trading talent with other major players in financial services (JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, etc.). But it’s interesting to see that they also hire people away from Verizon Communications and consulting leaders Accenture, along with General Electric. And, Capital One veterans sometimes go on to work at tech giants like Amazon, Facebook, and Google.
A good next step might be exploring the common thread between these businesses. Are there courses or credentials we could offer that would be recognized and valued by employers in both the left and right columns?
Second, we can also look at other companies with similar job postings. Who else is hiring for these types of roles and how are their posting habits changing over time? Here again is the data for Capital One:
The data you need to take the lead
As employers fight to attract and retain skilled workers, and educators work to attract and enroll a diverse student body, collaboration is key. With the right tools and insight, educators can take the lead in designing and developing partnerships that are win-win-win: creating prosperity for employers, educators, and individuals.
Want to explore market data to inform your employer engagement strategy? Request one of our free sample reports or contact us to get a personalized walkthrough of data and solutions for your institution.