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Hands-On Learning - Business Must Align with Schools to Close Skills Gap

Business Must Align with Schools to Close “Skills Gap”

Denver Post Article by Howard Pankratz, July 6, 2014

Poor alignment of American businesses with the schools that train their workers is creating a “skills gap” that may make it hard to fill as many as 650,000 technical- and science-based jobs by 2018.

The country needs a shift in how industry and educational institutions relate to each other, economists and business executives say.

“We do not take an approach — either at the national level or state level – that creates an ease of communications between employers and educational institutions that are going to impart skills and background to potential employees,” said Joe Fuller, a Harvard Business School professor and faculty member of the school’s U.S. Competitiveness Project. “This is why we have 12 million to 13 million unemployed people and 650,000 job openings in manufacturing right now.”

Recent college graduates typically have only about half the skills they need in the workplace, according to John Miller, chief operating officer for Denver-based consulting firm Hands-On Learning.

This forces businesses struggling to find qualified employees — in areas such as computers, mathematics, architecture, engineering, management, and health care — to educate workers in-house, which is costly.

“We really need to have universities run as businesses,” said Miller, whose company helps universities develop workforce programs. “It begins with the understanding that what they deliver to the market is a commodity: that’s a graduate.”

Since not all students can — or want to — go on to college, the American education system must provide alternatives.

Fuller, who is studying how the skills gap relates to boosting U.S. business competitiveness, estimates that 35 percent of people go to college today, compared with 5 percent in 1940.

“We’ve made a lot of progress, but the notion that 35 percent is going to 100 percent ever, let alone soon, is plain crazy,” said Fuller.

Most people will be trained for work that requires “middle skills” or “low skills” — jobs requiring more than a high school education but less than a four-year college degree, he said.

“I’m not saying we should be a nation of shopkeepers,” he said, adding there are areas besides advanced manufacturing jobs and computer scientists that need attention.

Fuller said many technical and professional schools are not nimble in upgrading curriculum to compete in the changing business world, and U.S. employers often lack effective workforce planning.

Fuller has studied how western European countries fill jobs.

aligning education and employment

(The Denver Post)

Some of those countries track and test children from their early years to their teenage years, steering them into lifetime occupations for which they are deemed suited.

Fuller and Miller say such tracking would be alien to U.S. culture.

But Fuller says the educators must start talking to kids and their parents at a young age about what the children would like to do and coordinate that with business.

“What we can draw (from the European experience) is to have that dialogue early to allow families to think about what their kids are actually interested in doing and having an aptitude for,” Fuller said.

Fuller said a big issue is the lack of counseling for children and their families and mid-career counseling for people who are out of work.

“We under-invest in that capability in our school systems and in our departments of labor in different states,” he said.

Navin Dimond, CEO of Stonebridge Companies, an Englewood-based hotel manager, sees a problem with an education system that presumes all students will head to college after high school.

Dimond, who recently donated $1.5 million to Metropolitan State University of Denver’s hotel management program, said students should have a variety of educational opportunities from which to choose.

Some students may need only high school plus a few years of vocational or trade school. Others may want an apprenticeship during high school.

“I don’t think everyone wants the four-year education,” said Dimond, whose company owns and operates dozens of hotels in the U.S.

Hands-On’s Miller said the fortunes of business and universities might also be linked by developing programs for mid-career workers.

Rising costs are keeping many out of college, Miller said, and dwindling enrollment threatens the economic viability of some universities. To survive, he said, universities have to change how they operate.

Private industry, he said, could pick up some of the tab through partner programs that allow workers to advance their education while remaining employed.

“At the end of the day, industry is going to win, and it is going to lower the cost of operation if they do it effectively,” Miller said. “The schools will then migrate to a new revenue model by working with industry.”

 

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Students Perform Better with Online Science Classes - LabPaq

Clark State Community College Finds Students Perform Better with Online Science Classes

Last year, 7.1 million students at colleges and universities in the United States took at least one online course, according to a recent survey. But for students who enrolled in online science classes, how did they get their lab experience to complete the course?

At Clark State Community College in Springfield, Ohio, students taking Introduction to Chemistry can conduct hands-on “wet lab” experiments in their own kitchens. Using chemistry kits produced by LabBridge Solutions, the students can create chemical reactions with solids and liquids poured into test tubes after learning the step-by-step instructions on a website.

The kits, which were upgraded in January, cost less than $300 and include the scientific equipment and materials needed to conduct 14 labs for the course. The LabBridge website also offers background material and illustrations for each experiment, instructions on how to conduct the labs, and an evaluation section where the students can apply what they’ve learned to real-world problems.

What’s surprising about these online science courses at Clarkson State Community College is that students who take the online version earn higher grades than those who take the equivalent course on campus. An analysis of grades in both formats of the course in Fall 2013 showed that 44 percent of those enrolled in the online version with LabBridge earned an A or B, compared to only 18 percent of those in the bricks-and-mortar course.

Fewer student also failed the online version of the course. Only 11 percent of the LabBridge students earned an F, while 21 percent of those taking the course on campus did so, according to Midge Hall, a professor of chemistry at the college.

Hall firmly believes students using LabBridge with an online course learn better than their counterparts who take the course on campus.

“If you observe students in a lab situation, they have lab partners and a lot of times, one person does all the work and the other person fetches,” Hall says. “One person is a pair of hands, and the other person is thinking and giving directions. When people are home doing it by themselves, they have to do all the thinking. It makes them interested and excited about it.”

What demonstrated the students’ interest in the online course were two students who asked Hall if they could complete two of the labs they missed after the course was over. The requirements in Hall’s course is for the students to complete 12 out of the 14 labs. “I’ve never had a student come to me and ask to make up a lab,” Hall says.

While Hall is convinced that online science classes are as good as those on campus, not all science professors share her view. At a recent meeting of science faculty in Ohio, many argued that online science courses were not an acceptable alternative.

“There’s a big hurdle there,” Hall says. “I think that introductory science courses are very appropriate online. The faculty in the sciences need to recognize this is a valid alternative.”

 

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