At first glance the subject of dating apps may appear frivolous in a discussion about serious issues facing low-income working learners, adult learners and first generation students entering post-high-school education or training programs today. However, on closer inspection, these urgent issues and dating apps both require successful matches made in a targeted, efficient, and timely fashion for their users. In that vein, this discussion focuses on three pivotal areas in need of matches like these for all learners, and most especially for those above, on the education-to-career path:
- Equity and Access represent the actual and aspirational opportunities that need to be available to all learners from birth through a satisfying life and career.
- Job Seekers and Open Jobs: In spite of admirable effort from so many quarters, today’s open jobs and their perfect matches are continuing to not meet at a pace that would put current dating apps out of business overnight.
- Students and Career Advisors: The disconnect in this matching situation is one of old stereotypes about what advisors do best, and advisors themselves not taking the lead to create awareness regarding the education-to-career ROI information students need that they can provide.
Barriers and Inertia
In many instances the barriers to igniting this romance between current and future job-seekers and open jobs can be found on the education side. Four-year colleges and universities are often unable to shake loose from: institutionalized inertia; resistance to technology interventions that aid struggling students; the crushing workload of advisors who may be responsible for multiple hundreds of students each; the inability of some institutions to come to terms with the needs of low-income and adult learners and adapt to assist them; and finally, students themselves who don’t know what they don’t know and aren’t always proactive in reaching out for assistance.
Community colleges have the heart and will for this challenge, but they often lack the funds to provide students with the interventions and advice they need in the most targeted and useful ways. And across the board, without advice and support, both working and non-working students tend to make education and career decisions based on “likes” only, and not also on hard evidence regarding both their career interests and an inventory of their personal skills and abilities.
Employers are the other players in this matching game. They often struggle to find candidates to fill job openings, or need to invest in expensive on-the-job training to bridge the skills gap of new hires. While apprenticeships and internships have served in bridging this gap to a certain degree, the vast majority of higher ed students are unaware of the existence or value of these opportunities. Whether it is inadequate signaling of future job requirements to colleges or the inability of colleges to rapidly adapt their programs and curricula to emerging workforce needs, the alignment between employers and colleges needs considerable improvement.
In addition, adult learners, low-income learners and first-generation learners can be especially challenged on the education to career path. Many have family and childcare responsibilities, are juggling life, work and education, have financial burdens beyond education expenses if they have dependents, and have related time and transportation constraints. Facilitating matches between many of them and open jobs has the added urgency of the need to earn a wage that will keep them in school and allow them to meet their other responsibilities – and will lead to a better, higher-paying job after college and/or certificate and training programs in a timely manner.
Up front and through the college journey, institutions need to make all students aware of the services they provide and proactively create an environment of acceptance and understanding of the various needs of their diverse populations. Adult learners, low-income learners and first generation learners need holistic support from the campus.Technology to enable self-advising by putting necessary information directly in front of learners, and facilitating at-your-own pace education will create the bandwidth for campuses to provide the cross-functional holistic guidance that students seek.
Career advising is the lynchpin for all students, but the ways it is provided by most institutions need updating and uplifting. Students should continually be made aware of the connection between their desire to see their studies lead to a good job (ROI) and their own responsibilities in this area. Wise institutions will make these matches mandatory in some fashion or provide strong incentives for participation.
The promise of equity, access and career acquisition for all learners and job seekers can become a reality if we have the resolve to flip older practices into newer ones that meet the varied needs of today’s learners more effectively. The goal should be a win on both sides.
About the Author
Susie Freedman is committed to building bridges between two-and-four-year degree options and skills-based-certification programs that redirect advisors, learners and job seekers to needed, but often hidden, resources for knowledge and career acquisition, and to integrating workforce readiness skills into the Pre-K-to-Career spectrum. In her consulting practice Freedman provides business development and change management services for organizations facing critical change and those seeking entrepreneurial options for revenue generation.