When Higher Education and Business align, everyone wins.
Designing educational programs to meet the needs of business and industry can help institutions of higher education increase enrollment.
Adult learners enroll in college with career goals in mind. They want to advance their careers, get better jobs, or increase their salary. Businesses also hold a stake. Many can only meet their staffing needs if institutions of higher education graduate workers with relevant skills. Even in times of high unemployment and hiring stagnation, there is a need for closely aligned skill sets and job skills.
Achieving alignment between education and business is an urgent challenge for institutions. When students can see how programs align with their career goals, they are more likely to pursue an education. As employers look for efficiency and seek low-risk, high-reward outcomes, hiring decisions become easier when they have knowledge and input in the education process.
Education faces a crisis of confidence
Only 48% of U.S. adults have “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in higher education, according to a 2018 Gallup Survey. That’s down 9 percentage points since 2015. At least part of this decline is due to uncertain results. Many adults aren’t convinced that college will teach them the skills they need to get jobs or enhance their careers.
Even when students are satisfied with their education, many employers are not. In the 2018 Job Outlook Survey, only 33% of employers thought new graduates were proficient in leadership, 41.6% thought they had good communication skills, and 55.8% thought they were adept in problem-solving.
Those numbers are disheartening, especially since most adults enroll in college with career goals in mind. If a degree doesn’t come with essential job skills, why would workers bother to pursue one?
Colleges can combat this crisis of confidence by aligning their programs with business and industry expectations. Business leaders and students both want the same thing, educational programs that prepare employees for the workforce. By collaborating with employers, colleges can understand what skills graduates need. The result will be more qualified job seekers and more satisfied graduates. All of this leads to higher enrollment numbers for aligned institutions.
How to align with business and industry
Institutions should not guess or assume they know what businesses are looking for. Instead, they should develop a strategic process for understanding and aligning their programs with the needs of their business community.
Step 1: Conduct Market Research
You aren’t quite ready to start a conversation with local businesses until you have done a little homework. Before you reach out to business leaders in your community, take the time to understand the environment you are entering. You will want to understand job trends, the economic environment, and the competitive landscape. While you may be able to conduct the market research yourself, a comprehensive market analysis, like the Regional Market Analysis conducted by our market research team, will save you time and effort.
Thorough research will dive into employment trends based on public and privately available data. Ideal partnership opportunities are those that fill a significant need in the marketplace today and also account for future growth opportunities. An analysis of the marketplace also includes an understanding of your competitors and their existing programs and partnerships. This will help you identify the best partnership opportunities and also the unique benefits and values that your program can offer prospective industry partners.
Step 2: Open a dialogue
Using your understanding of the marketplace and employment trends, reach out to your target local businesses and the main offices of national or international organizations with a presence in your region. Ask them about their staffing needs, how they currently find or develop the talent they require, and what gaps or opportunities may exist.
Businesses have jargon and agendas that do not translate perfectly to the higher education space. Become a translator. Assign a person or department within your organization to build relationships with local businesses. This may take some time, but once they understand you “speak the language” they are much more likely to engage in productive conversations.
Step 3: Map competencies
Employers and students may struggle to understand how a specific course or degree program builds essential skills. Connect the dots by creating content and messaging that highlights specific competencies or skill sets. Identify which ones students will learn in each class. Use your marketing, syllabi, and course catalogs to communicate these to students.
Make sure your definitions of each skill align with the business definition. For example, what do businesses mean when they talk about professionalism? Is that showing up on time? Knowing how to communicate with coworkers? Taking responsibility for your mistakes? Matching definitions allows your institution to create programs that meet business needs.
Step 4: Be prepared to alter your curriculum
If your curriculum doesn’t already meet the needs of employers, it’s time to make a change. Altering a curriculum can be a complex process, but it’s worth the effort. Adjusting your curriculum to better meet business goals and expectations can yield positive results by delivering exactly what employers are seeking. Your graduates will succeed in their careers and businesses will trust your programs.
Step 5. Adjust Your Marketing
To attract more adult learners and post-traditional students, build marketing messages around career outcomes and business partnerships. Your messaging should help students understand how your program teaches real skills that will help them achieve their career goals.
Even if you already have a solid marketing plan in place, consider adding additional content aimed at business owners. As employers take a more hands-on approach to training and development, they seek out institutions that understand their industry and its needs.
Ready to explore opportunities for industry partnerships? Start with a Regional Market Analysis from our expert team of researchers – Aslanian Market Research, a Division of EducationDynamics. Our team will help you understand the marketplace, complete a competitive analysis, and provide you with actionable data to help you start conversations with community business leaders.