Higher Education and Business: Partners in Developing Future Skills

By Long, Laura A. | Information Outlook, July-August 2012 | Go to article overview

Higher Education and Business: Partners in Developing Future Skills


Long, Laura A., Information Outlook


Higher education and business are locked in a reciprocal dance of turn and counterturn, stepping to the beat of the work skills needed in the 21st century. Neither can afford to listen to the old beat: education that prepares workers with a prescribed knowledge set and companies that employ workers to apply that knowledge only in defined ways. The rhythm of the workplace has become too frenetic for that.

To keep up, business must respond with strategic training and development (T&D) programs and collaborative endeavors with higher education. In turn, higher education institutions "must proactively partner with employers to develop industry-relevant curricula and pathways for graduates to enter or advance in the workforce," according to Tracey Wilen-Daugenti, vice president and managing director of the Apollo Research Institute.

Often, business responds to skills deficiencies with formal learning opportunities, such as support for workers to return to school, collaboration with educational institutions to create industry-specific training or degree programs, or inhouse T&D programs. But these responses ignore the vast potential of informal learning, which can account for as much as 90 percent of all learning that occurs in organizations, according to Nick van Dam, director and chief learning officer for Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited (van Dam 2012).

Optimally, businesses will begin to intentionally create work environments that encourage and guide informal learning toward specific skill development. Informal learning includes career-driven, on-demand, and social learning, all of which align with future work skills (van Dam 2012).

Career-driven learning occurs when people change roles or work on team projects. Workers, says van Dam, must "move outside of their comfort zone ... into the learning zone," thus creating a crucible for transdisciplinarity, especially if management follows up with coaching and mentoring.

On-demand learning occurs constantly as workers seek knowledge and information they need to perform their jobs (van Dam 2012). Granted, workers can access vast quantities of information through the Internet. But how can they sort quickly and efficiently through all that content? Information systems and special librarians can help workers navigate data and avoid cognitive overload, thereby streamlining learning.

Finally, social learning occurs as people share working environments and, in the course of their work, informally learn from one another. Organizations can foster social networks and encourage knowledge exchange within their own facilities and even their own industries.

Formal learning, too, must keep pace with changing workforce and business needs, although the global reach of many companies presents challenges for formal T&D delivery. Yum! Brands, with 37,000 restaurants in 117 countries and 1.4 million team members, addressed these challenges by jettisoning hard-copy manuals and embracing technology to create a broad yet flexible training program (Lauber 2012). Employees select online courses to learn content and build technological proficiencies; outcomes can be tracked at the local, regional, and global levels.

Yum! Brands management also benefits from technological advances. Using Webcam and Webcast technology, Yum! gathers its managers into global virtual meetings, thereby creating opportunities to develop cross-cultural competencies, virtual collaboration, and social intelligence.

Gaming technology also provides an opportunity for business to revamp T&D systems while simultaneously developing future skills. Games not only deliver training content, develop competencies, and measure results, they also build computational thinking and cognitive load management.

Garners "get very good at making reasonable predictions and charting actions based on information as it comes in," says Henry Jenkins, director of comparative media studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. …

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