Understanding both the large number of open jobs and the serious consequences of their going unfilled underscores the importance of collaboration in the workforce development value chain.
More than 120,000 openings exist across the state, according to the State of Ohio’s job search website. Of these, more than one half pay more than $50,000. If we want Ohio’s economic renaissance to continue, helping Ohioans acquire the skills to fill these positions is an urgent need. Employers cannot long survive—or grow—if they are operating short-handed. Their only options are to expand elsewhere or fold up shop—neither are what we want to see happen.
To get the skilled workers they need, businesses must go outside for help because they do not operate their own technical schools, community colleges or universities. Similarly, postsecondary institutions don’t operate the banks, factories, IT companies or health care institutions that put their graduates to work. Instead, their core mission is to equip students with the skills and knowledge needed to succeed in those industries.
All of this seems obvious, but unless businesses and higher education go beyond perfunctory communication to truly align their work, both will struggle to deliver the outcomes they seek. The long-standing practice of colleges and universities forming professional advisory boards is good, but it is not enough. More frequent, honest, detailed collaboration is needed between industry and education.
In short, informed by employer input, the continuous transformation of academic programs must accelerate to meet the pace of change in industry. WGU Ohio is honored to have meaningful relationships with employers throughout the state who provide timely feedback on the competencies they need our graduates to demonstrate.
Meaningful, student-focused collaboration is required among higher education institutions themselves as well.
The historic residential university model with high-rise dormitories, student life activities, and a routinized, location-based weekday class schedule doesn’t work for every student. Older students looking to reboot their careers or students from traditionally underserved groups—minorities, low-income families, those from rural areas or first-generation college students—often seek alternative routes to good-paying jobs. For these students, starting at a community college and then transferring into bachelor’s or master’s degree programs often makes the most sense.
That is why WGU Ohio has partnerships with Ohio’s 23 community colleges allowing for an affordable, seamless transition to bachelor’s or master’s programs for many of today’s in-demand jobs in business, K-12 education, information technology and health professions.
In fact, we encourage students to start at the community college level before transferring to WGU and offer scholarships specifically for these graduates. Once enrolled at WGU, another kind of needed collaboration takes place: collaboration between the faculty member and the student.
If a student is working, or has family obligations, it is not practical to expect them to contort their schedules around rigid, in-person class times. Online, competency-based education at WGU allows students to accelerate through programs by demonstrating the knowledge and skills they have gained through their life experiences, while encouraging them to complete as many courses as possible within each six-month term. Students who accelerate their coursework pay the same flat rate as those working at a slower pace. This approach meets students wherever they are, working with them to help them get the skills they need to move up and get on with their lives.
The fact we are even having a conversation about in-demand jobs is a welcome challenge. Unless we address it, however, we cannot expect Ohio’s economy to remain strong. With so many different pieces of the workforce puzzle all having similar needs—businesses, two-year colleges, four-year universities, and workers themselves—the reasons to work together are great. However, considering only traditional approaches and failing to recognize our interdependencies will prevent us from moving forward.
WGU Ohio is proud of the progress that has been achieved to fill in-demand jobs by working with our partners in business and higher education, and with our most important partner—students. The skills needed to fill these positions are as varied as the number of positions themselves. There is one skill that’s in-demand among the workforce value chain, however, and that’s the ability to collaborate. With that fundamental ability, everyone can win.
Rebecca L. Watts serves as Chancellor of Western Governors University in Ohio (WGU Ohio), a state-endorsed, online, competency-based university offering, high-quality, affordable degree programs for working adults in the state.
By Dr. Rebecca Watts is Chancellor – Western Governors University Ohio, a new state-supported university that the Ohio General Assembly brought in to help adult learners develop new skills to pursue new careers at a low lost.