Are colleges doing what they need to prepare students for the jobs of the 21st century?
Are new hires, especially those just finishing their first college degrees, ready to be productive contributors?
If the answers to the first two questions are negative, what can learning leaders do to optimize their company's investment in new talent?
This article presents the challenges of today's college preparation of the 21st century workforce, and strategies that learning leaders can take to ensure that the incoming, college educated talent pool can meet the strategic needs of their companies.
In their new book "Academically Adrift", Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa reported on research that indicated that college students are not developing the critical thinking skills that they should be. Although many researchers and commentators have argued that the study's methodology is flawed and, therefore, the conclusions are suspect, the book has still raised important questions about the ability of today's college graduates to function effectively in a knowledge economy that depends on being able to generate innovative solutions to solve today's complex problems in an ever-changing work environment.
As part of a series of commentaries on the New York Times website called Does College Make You Smarter?, Columbia University professor Mark Taylor, author of Crisis on Campus: A Bold Plan for Reforming Our Colleges and Universities, is convinced that the colleges need to do more.
Specifically, students are going to require additional skills and different literacies. The technological revolution that continues to take place is transforming the very structure of knowledge and, by extension, is changing the way people think, read, and write. Traditional skills and competence in reading and writing are still necessary, but are no longer sufficient. Students must also be taught to be critical and innovative while using new media as well as the old.
Unfortunately, identifying the issue, and even suggesting solutions, does not mean that change is going to be forthcoming any time soon at the college level, and companies can't hire tomorrow's graduates - they have to hire today's. Of course, this is not a brand new problem, and many learning leaders understand the implications and proactively suggest ways to integrate new hires into the company. New hires will need grounding in skills and knowledge to do their jobs, and some onboarding programs will need to involve mentors and guided courses while others will need to provide extensive course work and certification programs to assure that their new hires can succeed.
Some companies are beginning to think about how their relationships with college partners can serve to improve both corporate education and the direction of college programs. We've seen this with the creation of the composites course program that Boeing and the University of Washington developed when Boeing was embarking on its Dreamliner project, as well as with the relationships that Texas Health Resources has developed with its college partners to address nursing shortages.
Another route to improving the value of the college experience to the company may come from the way tuition assistance programs are structured. Most studies of the value of these programs have focused on measuring factors like retention. While this is undoubtedly important, the contribution of the supported coursework to achieving the company's business goals is something that companies need to examine. Some companies are looking at the linkage being approved colleges and programs of study and the skills and abilities that employees need, and that change will accelerate as learning leaders get more involved with tuition assistance programs.
Learning leaders have to use a combination of proven tools and creative approaches to assure that new hires are well prepared to contribute to business success. If Arum and Roksa are correct in that today's college students are lacking critical thinking skills, it won't be possible to develop those skills overnight, but exposing new hires to programs that encourage and reward creativity and innovation can jumpstart those abilities. In the long-term, learning leaders can help to accelerate the needed changes in higher education by cultivating relationships with college and university partners which can influence curriculum choices and encourage development of the skill sets that companies need in their new hires.
This article supports the CorpU 12 Dimensions of Learning Excellence - Execute (Partnerships & Program Design and Delivery).
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