The Skills Revolution:
A Call for Co-Creation and Collaboration Between Employers and Higher Education
Huron and InStride
The pervasive adoption of digital technology over the last two decades, from mobile and internet-connected devices to artificial intelligence, has reshaped economies, industries and lifestyles. The 21st century corporate leadership agenda centers on how to compete effectively in this digital world — raising questions about not only how to invest in technology, but what new skills will be required for the future of work.
This climate has renewed a collective sense of urgency to reskill and upskill employees for the jobs of tomorrow, and the jobs emerging today. The number of skills required for a single job is increasing 10% year over year. One-third of the skills that appeared in an average job posting in 2017 are no longer needed in 2021.¹ Tailored industry career pathways that reflect the continuum of reskilling and upskilling will typify learning and development in the near future.
HURON AND INSTRIDE | THE SKILLS REVOLUTION
The COVID-19 pandemic dramatically accelerated the timeline for addressing some of these questions. Some organizations were forced to furlough and lay off employees in mass; many have quickly shifted employees to virtual work environments. Almost all have had to adapt their operating models to accommodate new systems and serve consumers in new ways.
Successfully adapting today’s global workforce is a shared responsibility. Employers across industries will be called on to think differently about their approach to teaching, training and developing talent. Higher education institutions will be presented with an opportunity to address critical market demand for experiential learning. Colleges, universities and organizations that forge creative partnerships now will be better positioned to address this challenge and optimize their own growth in the future.
33% of skills from 2017 job postings are no longer needed in 2021.”
1 - “Top 5 Priorities for HR Leaders in 2021." Gartner, 2020. https://www.gartner.com/en/human-resources/trends/top-priorities-for-hr-leaders.
A New Sense of Urgency
for Reskilling and Upskilling
The need for large-scale reskilling and
upskilling of today’s employees was apparent long before COVID-19 rattled the global economy and labor market. In a time of unprecedented access to funding, technology and consumers’ attention, few industries are immune from disruption. Effectively competing with this pace of innovation starts with competent, capable people.
3 - Whiting, Kate. “There Are the Top 10 Job Skills of Tomorrow – and How Long It Takes to Learn Them.” World Economic Forum, Oct. 21, 2020.
More than one billion jobs, almost one-third of all jobs worldwide, are likely to be transformed in the next decade, with 94% of business leaders expecting employees to pick up new skills on
the job.² Due to the pandemic alone, however, 40% all employees will need to develop new competencies by 2024.³
This changing nature of work comes at a critical juncture: a time when having the “right” talent can make or break organizations’ ability to achieve their strategic goals, and when universities are similarly pressed to transform their existing business models.
2 - “Upskilling for Shared Prosperity.” World Economic Forum, January 2021. http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_Upskilling_for_Shared_Prosperity_2021.pdf.
Reasoning, problem-solving and ideation
Resilience, stress tolerance and flexibility
Technology design and programming
Technology use, monitoring and control
Leadership and social influence
Creativity, originality and initiative
Critical thinking and analysis
Analytical thinking and innovation
World Economic Forum’s Top 10 Job Skills for 2025
Desert Financial’s goal for the InvestED launch was to enroll 100 learners in 100 days, a threshold the organization quickly surpassed. “One of our values is big thinking — without the education and resources, it’s difficult to think outside the box,” says Rachel Hunter, associate vice president of brand communications for Desert Financial. “We have five leaders and 500 employees. We need all 500 to think big, rather than relying solely on the executive team.”
There is a constant current of emerging technology and regulatory changes that place greater pressure on employers to equip their people to excel. Organizations from AT&T to Amazon have invested significantly in efforts to upskill their current employees, recognizing the growing need for information technology, cloud computing and engineering expertise. Education institutions around the world are finding ways to intentionally align their academic offerings with these trends.
The chief executive officer of ManpowerGroup, one of the world’s largest staffing firms, declared that reskilling and upskilling employees — particularly on new technologies — will be “the defining challenge of our time.”⁴ For many organizations, tapping into increasingly powerful technologies and compensating for pandemic-related setbacks to strategic plans will require engaged, highly capable employees on deck.
This has been the case for Desert Financial Credit Union, Arizona’s largest local credit union with more than 330,000 members. The organization had set a goal to increase membership to 500,000, with defined milestones for each year leading up to 2025. Despite concerns over the business impact of COVID-19, Desert Financial met its 2020 milestone by October. Leadership attributes this in part to the organization’s emphasis on training and motivating its employees. Earlier in 2020, Desert Financial launched its InvestED program, through which eligible employees can receive financial
coverage for skill-building coursework and degree programs.
Workforce Development Becomes a Strategic Imperative
HURON AND INSTRIDE | THE SKILLS REVOLUTION
We need all 500 [employees] to think big, rather than relying solely on the executive team.”
— Rachel Hunter, Desert Financial Credit Union
- 100% online classes for
- More than 200 undergraduate,
graduate and certificate
- 100% tuition coverage
• After 90 days of employment,
employees are eligible to enroll
in the InvestED program:
• Arizona’s largest nonprofit credit
union with over 1,000 employees
4 - Handley, Lucy. “Mass Training After the Pandemic Will Be ‘One of the Defining Challenges of Our Time’: Manpower CEO.” CNBC.com, Sept. 11, 2020.
Employers cannot shoulder the responsibility of training and educating employees alone. As colleges and universities build strategies to address learners throughout their lifetimes, not simply following high school, these institutions can play a vital role.
Bringing learners up to speed on new technologies, methodologies and other competencies takes just that: speed. There is a time variable in this equation that traditional, full-time degree programs may not solve for, which has prompted many institutions to create
The University of Wisconsin−Madison is one institution pursuing numerous initiatives to collaborate more closely with employers. Over the last few years, units across its continuing studies division have begun working directly with corporate organizations to develop programs that respond to workforce needs.
“There is a greater awareness in education of our obligation to address societal problems. Our focus now is on trying to reach and address the needs of adult learners — not just to diversify revenue, but to make good on our mission,” says Maya Evans, director of growth strategies for the University of Wisconsin−Madison’s continuing studies division. “We have work to do, but we have never been more open to asking, ‘how’?”
Higher Education Evolves to Meet New Learner Demands
We have work to do, but we have never been more open to asking, ‘how’?”
— Maya Evans, University of Wisconsin−Madison
• A key focus of the 2025 road
map for UW−Madison’s Wisconsin
School of Business is to create a
platform for lifelong learning
beyond traditional undergraduate
and graduate programs.
• In 2017, the system launched
UW Extended Campus, a unit
dedicated to growing online and
adult education offerings, which
now manages over 20 degree
programs in semester and
The Badger Ready program is one
of many efforts across the University
of Wisconsin system to support
The University of
Focus on Adult Learners
its inception, Universidad Tecmilenio has prioritized online education and alliances with employers throughout Mexico to better serve working adults.
This convergence of employers’ focus on workforce development and higher education’s push toward lifelong learning offers incredible potential for coordinated, strategic action. Organizations that historically relied on in-house professional development efforts can realize significant benefits and training efficiencies by collaborating with colleges, universities and other education providers. And in employers, education institutions can find new alternatives to expansion beyond traditional degree offerings and supporting a larger pool of learners through innovative short course programs, stackable certificates and modularized degrees. With these choices, adult learners have the opportunity to rapidly upskill or reskill with courses and programs that will later shorten their time to degree completion.
new options, from stackable credentials in specialized subjects to alternative enrollment options. Sixty-eight percent of adults considering enrolling in education in 2020 preferred
non-degree pathways, up from 50% in 2019.⁵
In 2018, the University of Wisconsin−Madison launched its Badger Ready program, intended for adult students with some college background but no formal degree. Participants who complete 12 credits and maintain a 3.0 GPA are admitted as transfer students, a recognition of prior learning that provides valuable access to a degree program for learners with some college but
Similarly, Mexico’s Universidad Tecmilenio
was established in 2002 with the objective to address changing workforce demands. The institution has developed an innovative model
to educate Mexico’s population through flexible, practical and purpose-based coursework. From
5 - “Public Viewpoint: Interested but Not Enrolled: Understanding and Serving Aspiring Adult Learners.” Strada Education Network, Sept. 16, 2020.
• Promoting an open, objective
• Prioritizing lifelong learning
Over the next decade, a core pillar
of the university’s strategic vision
is to promote learners’ continuous development and competency
building. Planned efforts to fulfill
this goal include:
Universidad Tecmilenio’s Strategic Plan 2030
• Adopting an educational
mode that is experiential
• Offering customized learning.
Preparing learners and employees for
a continued transformation of the job market will compel higher education and corporate leaders to work together in unprecedented ways.
Building Successful Partnerships Between Employers and Universities
Developing programs and curricula that equip learners with future-ready skills and further their careers will depend on active participation from employers and institutions. “The challenge is
co-creation,” says Julio Peña Gaviria, director
of corporate universities for Universidad Tecmilenio. “Colleges and universities must
have the ability to understand the real
situations employers face in order to develop relevant solutions.”
Only by forming close relationships to understand an organization’s unique challenges — whether it’s a skills gap, retention issues, an
Partnerships between academia and industry are not inherently new. But the urgency of the demand for reskilling and upskilling adds a new layer of complexity. For college and university leaders, this raises questions of how to unbundle existing course content and allocate resources across the portfolio for new initiatives.
Constructive partnerships create the communication channel to articulate a new value proposition to a corporate audience. For organizations with targeted talent needs, success will depend on identifying the best education partners in relevant subject matter, and the ability to assess whether programs created for other employers can align to their specific goals.
industrywide talent shortage or an ambitious
strategic plan — can education institutions build viable offerings. Faculty play an important role as well. As leading experts in their domains as well as experienced practitioners, faculty members have unique insights that can inform new programs to meet industry and workforce needs. Higher education leaders can tap into the full breadth of their institutions’ intellectual capital by involving faculty and staff early in discussions with employers to design coursework and learning pathways that extend beyond traditional degree programs. These can include technical skills coursework, leadership development programs or soft skills training that build toward an eventual degree or certification.
Adopt a Co-Creation Mindset
Institutions must have the ability to understand the real situations employers face in order to develop relevant solutions.”
— Julio Peña Gaviria, Universidad Tecmilenio
undergraduate degree. Many of the Prime
Scholars participants are retail employees and store managers — roles that come with high turnover costs when accounting for new hire onboarding and training. By directly investing in their education, which can span four years or more depending on the program an employee enrolls in, Prime Communications hopes to promote longer staff tenure.
“For some participants, the program will help employees move into other roles across the organization,” says Gabrielle Moses, vice president of human resources at Prime Communications. “Upskilling is not the only driver, however. We are equally focused on retaining our people longer and combating the turnover problem so many retailers face.”
Co-creation gives employers the opportunity to think far beyond traditional education reimbursement and offer curated career pathways tailored to their industry as well as their employee talent. Career pathways equally serve employers and their workforce when they are developed through strong partnerships with higher education institutions. When thoughtfully designed, career pathways incorporate on-ramps for all learners with time commitments along a continuum that includes short-term skilling options that can later be applied to life-changing degrees. Companies with career advancement pathway programs attract top talent while mitigating staff attrition. Whether that’s advancement into management or senior leadership roles or seeking the social mobility that comes with degree attainment, curated career pathways give employers an actionable opportunity to upskill or reskill their workforce.
When Prime Communications acquired Spring Mobile in 2019, its leaders identified that Spring Mobile’s legacy tuition assistance program was mainly used by employees on behalf of their children. Hoping to offer a benefit that would reach more employees and support their upward mobility, Prime Communications launched the
Prime Scholars Program, through which eligible employees receive full coverage toward an online
Demonstrate the Value to Learners
The decision to return to postsecondary education — or pursue it for the first time — is markedly different from the perspective of a working adult versus a soon-to-be high school graduate. Thoughtfully communicating the personal and professional value of enrolling will be integral to encouraging learners to participate in reskilling initiatives.
"For workers balancing responsibilities, who may be the first generation in their family to attend college, institutions need to find a way to make it incredibly accessible for them to take the risk,” says Evans. “On the other hand, employers should make it evident how investing in education will yield tangible results, be it promotions or higher pay. The connection must be drawn more clearly so the value of education is plain to see.”
• Full-time employees with at least 12
consecutive months of service and in
good standing with the company are
eligible to receive 100% tuition
coverage for their choice of more than
80 online undergraduate programs.
• Largest AT&T authorized reseller in the
U.S., with more than 7,000 employees
Beyond collaborative relationships between organizations and higher education, effective reskilling efforts are underpinned by infrastructure that allows employees to access curated curricula related to their workplace, industry or career goals.
“Just like employers, institutions have to prioritize their resources,” says Donna Gastevich, associate dean of strategy and external relations for the University of Wisconsin−Madison’s continuing studies division. “Colleges and universities struggle when faced with multiple ways for reaching employee learners, whether directly, through institutional transfers or
As the volume of online programs offered from colleges and universities (as well as new alternative education providers) grows, there is a need for solutions that simplify the process of connecting employees with the right resources.
For Banfield Pet Hospital, supporting employee education is an extension of the organization’s holistic health and well-being strategy and part of its efforts to address the critical shortage of veterinary professionals. “We’re at a turning point where there are so many opportunities to transform the profession,” said Dr. Daniel Aja, chief veterinary relations and transformation officer at Banfield. “As the nation’s leading provider of preventive veterinary care, we have
a responsibility to leverage our size and scale
to do our part to bridge the veterinary talent shortage gap and establish a strong pipeline
of paraprofessionals to better support the
growing needs of our industry.”
In 2020, Banfield partnered with InStride to launch the Banfield Educational Pathways Program, which provides meaningful career growth and pathing by offering a select group
of paraprofessionals Banfield-paid tuition to complete an online STEM-related undergraduate degree. Within the program, selected Banfield associates have the opportunity to pursue a bachelor’s degree from their choice of more
than a dozen science- and health-focused programs at Arizona State University. As part
of the organization’s focus on associate career development and financial wellness, the practice is committed to investing in the growth and development of veterinary professionals to help create a more sustainable future for the industry.
Design a Platform to Simplify the Learning Experience
Organizations will realize greater long-term value by offering their people access to a diverse portfolio of skills training, credential programs and degrees — sourced from not one but many education partners. Going forward, more emphasis will be placed on creating networks of employers and institutions that bring industry leaders and academic experts together more efficiently. These networks can enable all parties to act faster, streamline the enrollment experience and be more responsive to changing workforce demands.
• The Banfield Educational Pathways
Program provides meaningful
career growth by offering a select
group of paraprofessionals
Banfield-paid tuition to complete
an online science-or health-related
• Banfield is part of the Mars Veterinary
Health family of brands, employing
more than 19,000 associates and over
“Employers need to see a return on investment, even if it’s over the course of multiple years,” Peña Gaviria says. “The challenge is helping people move from point A to point B and proving that their education helped accomplish that.” Universidad Tecmilenio works closely with organizations early in the program development process to understand what outcomes matter most to each employer, whether it’s employee retention and attrition rates, sales, or diversity and inclusion.
Measure the Impact and Adjust Accordingly
As employers make greater investments in
their people’s growth, data will be integral
to understanding the effectiveness of education programs and identifying areas to adjust.
For education institutions, this level of measurement will go beyond traditional
student success metrics.
With defined metrics in place, employers and institutions can outline a strategy for continuous tracking and measurement. Providing visibility into data gleaned from employee surveys and other internal mechanisms will be an important step to improving these programs over time — whether it pertains to enrollment, administrative processes or curriculum. Colleges and universities can also use insights from corporate programs to inform decisions made across their academic portfolios.
Preparing billions of employees worldwide for a skills revolution requires a united
effort between education institutions, organizations and other partners. Legacy approaches to workforce development and postsecondary education are no match for the scale of the reskilling and upskilling challenge, nor are they conducive to the needs of today’s adult learners.
The Future of Business and Education Starts With People
Business and education leaders alike are acutely aware of the challenges facing today’s and tomorrow’s workforce. With tighter collaboration, resource sharing and communication, the two can create lasting solutions that improve equity and personal and professional outcomes for generations to come.
For higher education, the opportunity to become an employer’s partner of choice is one that can fulfill institutions’ academic missions and long-term growth goals. The pressing need for skills-based education is a chance for colleges and universities to reach learners who to date have only made up a portion of the student population.
Investing in employee education can mean far more than tuition reimbursement benefits. With strategic partnerships and a collaborative mindset, employers can connect their people — across job levels, functions and educational histories — with high-quality academic resources.
In turn, organizations capture the competitive advantages of an engaged, future-ready team.
HURON AND INSTRIDE | THE SKILLS REVOLUTION
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As the premier global provider of strategic enterprise education™ programs (SEE), InStride enables employers to provide career-boosting degrees to their employees, through leading global academic institutions across the U.S., Mexico, Europe and Australia. InStride helps organizations achieve transformative business and social impact by unlocking the power of education, through advanced technology-enabled experiences for learners and corporate partners alike.
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