Solving the Middle Skills Gap at Harvard University

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

Joseph Fuller, Professor of Management Practice at Harvard Business School, joined the podcast to talk about the “Middle Skills” jobs employers have a consistently difficult time filling, and higher ed’s opportunity to serve and credential this critical market.

We need to always reinforce a messagethat there's dignity and work, that being someone, being a real person,doesn't hinge on having that four year degree. It hinges on the type of citizen, neighbor, productive, contributing member to society. Or you're listening toenrollment growth university from Helix Education, the best professional development podcast for higher educationleaders looking to grow enrollment at their college or university. Whether you're looking forfresh enrollment growth techniques and strategies or tools and resources, you've come to theright place. Let's get into the show. Welcome back to enrollment growth university,a proud member of the connect ETU podcast network. I'm Eric Olson withHelix Education and we're here today with Joseph Fuller, professor of management practice atHarvard Business School. Joe, welcome to the show. Thank you, rich, delighted to be with you. Delighted to have you here and talk toyou today about solving the middle skills gap. Before we dig in, can youget the listeners a quick background on your role at HBS? Well,I'm a professor of manage from practice and teaching our MBA program. I alsolead a long term project at the school called managing the future of work,in which we examine the issues affecting the evolution of work, mostly in thedeveloped world, that a policy maker, or particularly a business executive or institutionalleader, should be taking into account. So we don't just focus on skillsor that's a major area of our work. We talked about and examine automation,how Carr Economics and and familial concerns influence productivity and work, skilled immigration, the relationship between higher read and skills and work readiness. So it's prettybroad product, but we're trying to give...

...decision makers practical insights into how theyought to think about adapting their organizations to be ready for the way work isevolving. Yeah, and it is that future of work focused and I'm excitedto dig in with you today, specifically in an area that I don't heartalked about potentially enough, in higher read job perhaps to kick us off today, can you start us off with that high level definition of middle skills andperhaps their correlation with consistently hard to fill jobs for employers? Middle Skills iscommonly defined as a skill base, set of competencies and individual that can onlybe obtained by getting some type of post secondary education or certification but that simultaneouslydon't require a college degree. Gree so, an example of a middle skills job, in a classic one, would be a skilled construction worker, carpenter, a pipe fit or electrician, a welder, where you have to getto become a journeyman, you have to get through a certification program where youlearn those skills. No one wants a self taught amateur electrician to do thewiring their home or, for that matter, a self taught dental hygenist. Right. So, whether it's a vet tech a dental high genist, alsoskills like the ability to repair a heavy duty truck engine or lots of skillsin business like bookkeepers or account payable or kind of receivable clerks or market at, marketing analyst. They don't necessarily have to have a four year degree,although the trend over time in the United States has been to have more jobsand more employers who offer those jobs requiring a four year degree for jobs thatare historically in a gray area or did...

...not require college degree. Yeah,Joe, you've done some really incredible and fascinating research in this middle skills space, going back to the great recession what do we know so far about thepandemics effects on these middle skills jobs? Well, it's like most things.It's a pretty broad based, systemic effect. Like the first thing is it knockedback the education plans of a significant number of aspiring workers. So therewere dramatic increase in the number of people that either suspended permanently or postponed plansgo to school. Of course we saw that in the enrollment numbers at communitycolleges, which are the really the evely the biggest source of middle skills talentin the United States. The second thing is that certain middle skills jobs,like the ability to repair a truck engine or, for that matter, todrive up eighteen wheeler over the road heavy duty truck, demand really picked up. But other middle skills jobs, let's say those in the hospitality sector oran aviation tech, someone repairs jet engines. As engine hours went down in thein the travel industry, significant reduction of demand, certainly for new workers, and emotions has furloughs or layoffs for incumbent workers. So it's been ait's been a very uneven distribution. You mentioned this concept of this kind offalls into a gray space and I think when I asked you that question aboutboy I'm surprised Hira doesn't talk about this more. I think you potentially answeredthat in terms of yet well, we're not sure that's the market that weserve. So I'm curious, as you've studied this group and part of theeconomy so carefully, how should hire read think about serving ideally credentialing this middleskills gap? Do we force upon them? Are Four your degrees that we're accustomedto, or do we think about something different? Well, it's avery interesting time because, of course,...

...the worth what paid for debate inhigher it especially for four year institutions, is raging and more parents and learnerswant a representation that investing their time and money in getting a degree is goingto lead to an economic outcome that justifies the investment. Strangely, a lotof the disciplines taught it through or off associated with middle skills fit with alot of the jobs of tomorrow. So often times middle skills jobs have todo with learning a technology. And if digital technology becomes ubiquitous in all sortsof jobs of all different colors, white collar, blue collar and everything inbetween, having the capacity of an educational institution to impart those what are generallycalled hard skills becomes more important. So I think that for four year institutions, being cognizant of the fact that the attributes we attributed to college graduates historicallythat they would have high self efficacy and work ethic, that have good writtenoral communication skills, they would know how to tackle a problem, those arenow being supplemented by a requirements to have some inability, if some ability orsome some aptitude for both learning and working with technology, and that's often limitedto our computer science programs in a higher institution. Let's distinguish also two yearinstitutions from four year institutions. Community colleges historically have been the font of alot of middle skills workers and in a about half the states cte programs andcompetency based programs are still a significant part of community college curricula. In theother half of the state there's states there's...

...a higher emphasis on general studies andpreparing students to matriculate two or four year institution to get on that more normativepath that we associate with with the American dream. I think what's very importantthing for educational leaders is to dignify in in the way they describe what theirinstitutions do and and in their commentary on education issues, especially with an administrationthat seems to be very, very inclined to do some big things in thesector, to really dignify the types of jobs that are associated with middle kills, with only forty percent of today's eighteen year olds likely to graduate from afour year institution, and that's of course an average which in which Asian Americansand Caucasians historically will have been overrepresented and African Americans and his Spanish will beunderrepresented. We need to always reinforce the message that there's dignity and work,that being someone, being a real person, don't hinge on having that four yeardegree. It hinges on the type of citizen, neighbor, productive,contributing member to society. Or let's talk about that posture of dignity specifically whenwe're talking with local employers. You mentioned the systemic nature of the pandemic andhow hard it was equally, or at least, on everyone to varying degrees. When we're looking at employers who may be in our communities, who aregoing through a lot and trying to navigate and figure out what next looks likefor them dealing with critical, critical retention issues which, in our posture,be from a partnership standpoint, from a consultation standpoint, in terms of shouldwe not only see our for year, you know, degrees as good upskillingcredentials, which we think about this middle...

...skills group and this idea of Hey, employer, let's think about how to upskial your entry level workers to thismiddle skilled jobs in order to create a better pathway program within your organization toincrease your retention. What should that posture and conversation look like with our localemployers? Well, I think it's really an important issue you're touching on here, Eric, because the velocity of change in jobs is such now and andparticularly the technological requirements and the actual technology being used turning over so fast thatis more or less impossible to expect an institution of Higher Education to keep upwith that, to know what the state of the art is, to beable to change curriculum that quickly in many cases where you have to have handson learning, to be able to change the software license as your own thehardware, you've got to teach people on. So we absolutely need to convey,not just two employers but to educators and to policy makers, is weneed a significant increase in the availability of work based learning that is part ofdegree attainment, whether it's associates degree attainment or bachelor for Cretainment, that it'sonly in the workplace that people really master skills and it's increasingly only in theworkplace where the approaches and the technologies you need to master to be qualified toget a job are accessible to learn. So whether it's a co OP programof course, I'm from Boston, where or northeastern university is is the absoluteplatinum standard in terms of cooperative education, whether it's something like that or amuch greater broadening of what constitutes apprenticeship in the United States, or work basedlearning, even starting in high school,...

...where you have innovative programs like careerwiseColorado, where you've got kids, as part of their high school degree completion, are working for an employer, often at the same time doing some dualenrollment studying at a local community college. The kind of very serial aid tobe to see you go to high school, you graduate, you go to communitycollege and then matriculate to a four year college or you go to humunitycollege and then enter the workforce and it's all very linear and and the educationalresources of the country are expected to create and kind of, at the endof the diploma line, deliver to the workforce someone who is able to geta life, household sustaining level job. That kind of rote railroad track modeljust doesn't fit anymore with where technology is. So what we need is to bothget it more flexibility on educators and more receptivity and effort by educators toencourage employers and are in that type of relationship. We need more employers tostop expecting that the way the world is supposed to work is they're supposed tobe able to enter the spot market for talent and find exactly what they werelooking for on demand. And we should be saying to policy makers, particularlynow at the federal level, look, you can do things like have freecommunity college, and their pros and cons to that, but you're just changingthe Coefficient on one variable in the equation that is increasingly out of sink withwhat we need as an economy and as a society, which is more peoplein good paying households sustaining level jobs which...

...have a future and that really,really benefits from compensated work based learning that is part of degree completion. Sothe learner understands that. You know, I am getting articulation into course creditsfor this and I'm earning enough because over fifty percent of community college students areworking learners. So I'm earning enough to pay my bills, to stay inschool, to complete this program so that I can get a good, fulltime job. And that requires everybody rethinking their definition of success. Educators can'tsay we're all about education and you know, we're not a trade school and andthe you know, the employer really have to understand what we need fromthem. Yep, fair enough, and vice versa. Joe. Tremendous,tremendous thoughts. Finally, can you leave us with some next steps? Advicehere for institutions listening to this excited a about it, slightly nervous about whereto move forward, but they want to better serve and better solve for themiddle skills gap, both to better serve their own student population as well asto help service their local employers. Where should they start first? Well,first they should be very active and engaging employers and trying to understand how employersview the product they currently create in the form of their graduates. And thesecond thing they should do is understand that merely creating a more mature young adultwho has good communication skills, good to self avocas a good research skills forsome level of presentability, that's not enough anymore. Employers are saying regularly graduatesfrom college don't know how to manage a project. They know how to takea course and they think in hundred day in increments because that's the length ofa semester, and they think about I have eight weeks to get this doneas and therefore I can maybe take this...

...week off because I want to watchthe European Soccer Championship, because I'm a soccer fan, and but that's okay. I'll still have in seven weeks to do my turn. Paper business isabout being productive or being in a government agency, but being doing a jobevery day. They're not good and not skilled, not experience, UN workingin teams, especially teams of people not like them. But that I don'tmean so much racial or gender diversity. As a sixty year old, afifty year old, of forty year old, somebody calling in from the Mumbi office, you know, a gig were skilled gig worker, complicated teams.I think the the other thing they should be doing is is experimenting, andeducational institutions generally aren't good at the experiments. Strangely enough, maybe they are inthe Camel AB, but they're not in terms of curriculum, and Ithink trying some experiments with employers or partnering with outside, Non Traditional vendors.Are Not talking about textbook suppliers or whatnot, but I'm talking about technology companies orothers that to see if they can create new curriculum that really equips equipspeople to have a better launch into the workplace. Final thing I would doI would be upgrading my career and Professional Services Office by Placement Office, andone of the things S I be doing is getting data from, and makingit accessible of the students about things like what jobs are available in healthcare,in high tech, in manufacturing, in professional services, what are the jobdescriptions actually say, and how can we help students map what employers say they'reseeking with our course catalog so that it's we're not just leaving the students tomuddle through and and submit resumes to the...

...employers who happened to hired our institution. Expand that population of suppliers, give the stud of recruiters, give thestudents much better access to market data about what jobs are actually on offer ina community you want to live in, what do they pay and then whatdo they require? So and that freshman should be having that conversation and moredata, more engagement employers and more experimentation with curriculum and particularly aggressive experimentation andmoves into work based learning too. Thanks so much for your time, yourthoughts and your continued research in the space. What's the best place for listeners toconnect with you if they have any follow up questions? Well, Eric, they can contact me through the faculty landing page of my my bio atthe Harvard Business School. So if you go to the Harvard Business School websiteand go to the Faculty Tab, you will find me at the end ofthe F's fuller. And then also we have a project work site managing thefuture of work. So of just Google that at Harvard Business School managed thefuture work hard business school. All my research is up there. Our podcastseries, we have almost two hundred now up, is available there and searchablethere, and we have a news letter people can sign up for. Awesome, Joe. Thanks so much for joining us today. Eric, my pleasure. Attracting today's new post traditional learners means adopting new enrollment strategies. Helix educationsdata driven, enterprise wide approach to enrollment growth is uniquely helping colleges and universitiesthrive in this new education landscape, and Helix has just published the second editionof their enrollment growth playbook with fifty percent brand new content on how institutions cansolve today's most pressing enrollment growth challenges. Downloaded today for free at Helix Educationcom. Playbook. You've been listening to enrollment...

...growth university from Helix Education. Toensure that you never miss an episode, subscribe to the show in Itunes oryour favorite podcast player. Thank you so much for listening. Until next time,.

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