Why Should Universities Embrace Upskilling?

Why are universities embracing upskilling?

Do you know how to prepare for a job that may not already be available? 

This is the reality and concern of many organizations worldwide. A decade back, we were unaware of jobs such as social media managers or robotics engineers; there were not mainstream or in high demand. It is hard to imagine a world without them anymore.

Today, the most crucial questions are what the world of work would look like ten years later; when technology is changing so quickly, what would be the demand for employment in the future?

We may not know the exact job titles, but we know that it is possible to start building the foundation of skills before the need arises. This can be done by learning new skills.

This article lets us dive deeper and understand upskilling and why universities are adopting it.

What is Upskilling?

Upskilling builds on previous skills to acquire (or evolve) into higher-level skills. These skills may be more complex, developed, or advanced than the already acquired skill sets.

While in business terms, upskilling may be referred to as how we teach employees new skills. On a large scale, professional development refers to students and employees who emphasize a quick career and the development of practical skills.

As per the 2021 Emeritus Global Consumer Sentiment Survey, career advancement, such as earning a raise or promotion, has the top motivation for pursuing education, coming ahead of factors like job safety, which was the top motivation in the year2020. This is just one of the multiple studies showing the potential opportunities for upskilling.

In education, Upskilling skills help students become future-ready, while in the corporate world, upskilling skills are being added to complement or enhance the current role of that particular employee. The other term, reskilling, is also crucial. It focuses on an entirely new set of skills – often because the individual prepares to take on a different role.

Both initiatives often encourage individuals, especially employers, and lead to numerous workplace benefits. Examples of these employer-initiated opportunities include virtual learning and training sessions, mentoring and shadowing micro-learning, and tuition reimbursement or assistance offerings.

Why is upskilling so important today?

Based on a report from the World Economic Forum, large-scale investment in skills development can drive global gross domestic product (GDP) to $6.5 trillion U.S. by 2030, which will lead to the creation of 5.3 million net new jobs worldwide by 2030.

Also, upskilling allows learners to expand their horizons while minimizing skills gaps.

The report, as mentioned earlier, predicts that upskilling and reskilling could propel the transition to an economy where human work is increasingly completed and expanded instead of being replaced by new technologies, thereby improving the overall quality of employment.

It is also diagnosed that there is a fast-growing void and mismatch between skills people currently possess and the skills required for future jobs in coming decades. These skills will become more prevalent because of the changes brought about by the fourth industrial revolution. Also, governments, businesses, and educational institutions are not helping enough to acquire future-ready skills. This includes acquiring relevant knowledge for new jobs through digital upskilling and developing transferable skills, such as critical thinking, creativity, and even self-management. These skills often make people more versatile, resilient, and adaptable – and more able to participate fully in the fourth industrial revolution economy.

Developing such skill sets also requires a learning or growth mindset: the ability to continue developing skills over time. This differs from a narrow view of skill improvement, which presupposes that people have a core set of skills to learn a task quickly. A learning mindset – learning to learn – requires continuous training, ideally from an early age, possibly as early as elementary school.

In real-time, the Davos report argues that education systems – primarily secondary and higher education – need to act and adopt this approach to play a central role in a comprehensive skills development agenda. In the recent past, the European Union's communications on the European Educational Area, the Digital Education Action Plan focusing on micro-credentials, and the Rome Communiqué on the European Higher Education Area has already put re-qualification and further training at the forefront of the debate on changing the provision of higher education.

The EHEA Rome Communiqué highlights that "higher education institutions have the potential to drive major change – improve the knowledge, skills, and competencies of students and society to contribute to sustainability, environmental protection, and other critical objectives. They must prepare learners to become active, critical, and accountable citizens and provide life-long learning opportunities to support their societal role."

The report notes that the COVID-19 crisis has already tipped off educators and training providers to leverage existing systems vulnerabilities exposed to COVID-19 as a transformative time for the industry. Before the pandemic, the education and training sector faced rapid transformation with a wide range of online learning options combined with offline, in-person, and experiential learning for a more human-centered learning experience.

Upskilling for Shared Prosperity states that dual vocational education and training systems are particularly effective in emerging and developing countries - by combining theory and training in an actual work environment.

Despite these promising trends, the global education and training sector remains fragmented and would greatly benefit from the emergence of a more interconnected ecosystem. It also highlighted certain areas that need to be addressed in such a way as to give priority to vocational and higher education programs, increase the availability of self-directed learning and nano-degrees for lifelong learning; embrace the future of work as a source of reinvention to normalize lifelong learning for all online open courses and other forms of online learning and the direct human-to-human connection of traditional learning, build bridges between national qualification systems and lifelong learning, establish comprehensive connectivity, i.e., link schools and places of learning globally and develop and adopt at scale a much more joined-up taxonomy and recognition system for skills and credentials across countries, education systems, and industries.

Why do Universities Need to Embrace Upskilling?

The Future of Jobs Report by the World Economic Forum declares that 40 percent of company employees will need to reskill for six months to keep up with the changing business needs of the future. On the flip side, 94 percent of industry leaders expect their employees to upskill while on the job to keep up with these changing needs.

In recent years, recruitment has moved from a credential-based approach to a skills-based approach. As a result of this approach, basic skills take precedence over qualifications. Also, as per the Future of Work Trends 2022 Report, 69 percent of companies now hold an individual's curiosity and willingness to learn in higher regard than their degree and experience. This paradigm shift in hiring practices removes barriers for employees eager to learn, increasing the talent pipeline in organizations.

While a skills-based hiring approach is relatively new, it will become a broad-based hiring standard in 2022. There will be an immediate impact on educational and learning institutions. With that in mind, India's top institutes have also created leadership programs focused on skills-based learning and growth. E-learning is at the top of the list for 2022, and India will be profoundly affected by its 700 million Internet users.

It is expected that the online education market in India will grow by USD 2.28 billion from 2021-2025. Executive education programs are an excellent avenue for professionals who wish to upskill and reskill. They consider the needs of industry professionals who can work and study simultaneously. Its innovative programs and teaching methods are ideal for professionals who want to stay relevant in today's evolving economic landscape.

Needless to say, traditional degrees are no longer the only unit of learning. Most colleges and universities across the globe are now offering a variety of credentials, such as certificates, digital badges, or micro-credentials, to help provide hyper-focused training that aligns with the specific skills and competencies employers seek today. Thus, we may consider upskilling a more significant trend subset.

As more and more people begin to shift toward specific skill sets, upskilling provides a very focused way to solve skills gaps. However, there may be a possibility of not finding the right skill set for a certain skill gap or employment opportunities. A short, specialized certificate or training may play a good role in such cases. These kinds of learning pathways are desirable to adult learners.

To meet the workforce's needs, colleges and universities must diversify their offerings and cater to the upskilling professionals. Provosts and higher ed leaders should consider the demands of the current workforce and prepare for the skills that will grow in the coming years.

Such shorter non-credit courses and certificate programs offer more opportunities to build skills and advance their knowledge in shorter, cheaper time blocks. Certificate programs also provide universities with a way to maintain alumni engagement as active participants in their learning community and to support other types of lifelong learners.

For universities, offering certification programs online dramatically increases the number of students they can serve. While significant progress has been made in making quality education accessible across the country, undergraduate degrees remain inaccessible to much of the population. Strada Education reports that 65% of the United States. The workforce has no four-year degree; more people are questioning the value of programs leading to a general degree.

Microcredits and other alternative teaching options are destined to generate a long-term dynamic. 

Microcredit also meets many other needs:  

  • Rapid Learning After Graduation: Certificates may complement the knowledge of a degree program, making them attractive to individuals who have already completed an undergraduate or graduate program.
  • Support for cumulative programs of study: Universities are beginning to experiment with other program structures that take advantage of certificate programs to give their students more choice in their course load. For instance, a student may obtain a business degree by completing a business, marketing, and finance certificate program.
  • More affordable education: The cost of education increased by about 59% between 2000 and 2020, while median inflation-adjusted salaries increased by only 5%. Low-cost certificate programs offer access to education to broad segments of the population who cannot devote the time or money to an undergraduate or graduate degree.
  • More accessible education: Online certificates with shorter time commitments make it easier for students to complete their education in smaller chunks of time and exercise more granular control over what courses they take. For neurodivergent and disabled students, this can mean the difference between completing all their academic goals and dropping out of school to deal with mental health or medical problems.
  • Career Exploration: Not many people know what they want to do with their lives early in their studies. Although not everyone will be interested in graduating, many will use certificates to explore their passions and decide to stay in school.
  • Universities are becoming more resilient: schools do not need to reinvent the wheel to create an outstanding certificate program. They can use existing courses and study programs to develop effective economic programs that meet market demand. With various programs, schools can continue to serve students even during economic downturns and other disruptions.

Hence, the growth of upskilling will lead to drastic increases in competition across all areas of education, primarily as platforms like Google and LinkedIn invest more into their professional certificate offerings. However, universities are not starting from scratch. They can leverage their existing content and expertise to build certificate offerings that compete with or exceed the quality of professional options on the market. 

To benefit from the potential for skills development, it will be essential to rethink what formal education looks like. With more options available, students can chart their path to learning in a profoundly unprecedented way — with more granular control over what topics they study, which credentials they earn, and the time they take to finish.

This means that flexible and varied programs will become increasingly critical differentiators when prospectives decide where to study. 

About the Author
Author: Saniya Khan
Saniya Khan I am Saniya Khan, Copy-Editor at EdTechReview - India’s leading edtech media. As a part of the group, my aim is to spread awareness on the growing edtech market by guiding all educational stakeholders on latest and quality news, information and resources. A voraciously curious writer with a dedication to excellence creates interesting yet informational pieces, playing with words since 2016.

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