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From reactive to predictive: transforming talent management in higher education for improved recruiting and retention

Inspired by the need to engage an ever-diversifying student body, universities are transforming how they’re creating, delivering, and managing student learning opportunities. Technology plays a key role in this transformation, with institutions across the nation offering new learning modalities, augmented services, virtual reality, and enhanced digital capabilities inside and outside the classroom.Inspired by the need to engage an ever-diversifying student body, universities are transforming how they’re creating, delivering, and managing student learning opportunities. Technology plays a key role in this transformation, with institutions across the nation offering new learning modalities, augmented services, virtual reality, and enhanced digital capabilities inside and outside the classroom.

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Why You Shouldn't Overlook Candidates With an Alternative Education

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Why You Shouldn't Overlook Candidates With an Alternative Education

More students are pursuing higher education than ever before—but at a higher cost. The result? The national student debt burden is approaching $1.5 trillion, and in 2016 the average college student graduated with over $37,000 in student loans. For many potential college students who are now the future of our workforce, this process has become untenable. To find jobs, they need skills, but at what cost? I'm hardly alone in advocating for HR practices that seek unconventional candidates for employment—namely individuals with varied expertise, nontraditional career paths and those who have acquired higher education in a unique university setting (or outside of a university entirely). Scott Pulsipher, president of Western Governors University (WGU), also believes in the importance of competency over a flashy degree. WGU provides an education to students on unconventional learning paths and prepares them for the workforce in more practical ways. The school was founded just over 20 years ago and has awarded close to 100,000 degrees, today serving approximately 85,000 students. I interviewed Pulsipher for the Disrupt Yourself Podcast to understand more about the benefits of alternative education programs and why he believes organizations should recruit talent with non-traditional educational backgrounds. Degrees Aren't Everything WGU's programs aren't designed for traditional college-aged students. Rather, the university provides an opportunity for working adults who have sometimes earned college credits, but not a full degree. There are more than 31 million such adults in the U.S. Often they live in rural areas, where educational access is poor and the education ethos less developed. Because it costs about half as much as a state school, a WGU education is more attainable. "On average, WGU graduates earn nearly $20,000 more in income than they did when they started. Our average student is 37 years old, our oldest graduates are in their late 70s and early 80s," according to Pulsipher. From a hiring perspective, these graduates are a gold mine—they have life experiences, and are often hungry for previously denied opportunities to prove themselves. WGU's programs are fully online, all emphasizing practical, high-demand expertise: business, technology, health services and teaching. Contrary to popular belief, many jobs in these fields do not require four-year degrees. Thanks to technology that can now do a lot of the heavy lifting, many roles now simply require competency in a specific field and adaptability to new tools. WGU's approach ensures that graduates obtain just that. It's About Competency, Not Curriculum WGU employs an entirely competency-based grading model. "If you're competent, then you're meeting the standards that are needed in the workplace environment for that core subject matter. There are no grades; you either pass or you don't," Pulsipher explains. One benefit of this alternative education model is that it ensures that students actually learn everything they need to know in order to perform the tasks associated with the jobs they'll be seeking. Plus, with no required electives or liberal arts courses, students can focus on gaining specific skills targeted to their future jobs. WGU isn't right for everyone, but for a sizeable piece of the adult population, it offers an accessible, cost-effective alternative to the traditional university. Many jobs still require a traditional university education and advanced degrees, but others do not, and for those who've been left behind by unattainable educational opportunities, even basic jobs can be out of reach. Through WGU's model, these students reach their potential, improve their competencies and contribute to the workforce. The takeaway for HR professionals is that unconventional educational paths can provide an expansive pool of well-qualified talent that shouldn't be dismissed. There are advantages to hiring candidates overlooked by others—these capable people can bring not only specialized competency to the table, but also life experience, stability and the drive to prove what they can do. Photo: Creative Commons

Strategies to Improve Employee Learning Retention

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Strategies to Improve Employee Learning Retention

Learning programs are often costly and may not always bring about the change in behavior that organizational leaders hope to see. And every so often, learning programs actually take employees away from the very work they were hired to do, which can be costly for the company and stressful for the employee. What if a simple process could help dramatically improve employee learning retention? Just two key steps—one before the learning event, and one after—can open learners' minds to new concepts and enable them to reflect on how fresh knowledge or insight might help them in their job. To improve learning retention, it's key to zero in on the knowledge that needs to be acquired, ensure that the learner understands why it needs to be acquired and set one or two simple goals for learners to work towards immediately after the learning experience. Set Up Learning Moments Understanding the "why" is a critical step to create interest, communicate relevance, and make learning stick. Otherwise, the content may not be meaningful, causing boredom and a wandering mind. Plus, if you don't frame learning experiences in the right way, employees might not even know they're happening. Consider this example from one of my clients. The CEO of a manufacturing company was puzzled when his employees asked for training. After reviewing the results of a learning needs assessment, he was even more confused because he felt that the company was already doing much of the training that his employees requested. Still, his employees clearly didn't realize when learning took place. As a small organization, he didn't have the budget or the time for external training that didn't contribute to "real" work, so we helped them create an informal learning program. With specific learning needs identified, managers put on their teaching hats and created templates that broke concepts up into small chunks. They then identified a subject matter expert within the organization that would lead the learning experiences, which we called "learning moments." To get started, the subject matter expert prefaced the first learning moment by explaining the "what and why" of the content, and setting the stage for what was about to take place. The subject matter expert then led learners through the content in a structured way over a span of about 15 minutes. It didn't take long for employees to realize that learning was happening—by talking about learning before it took place, the expert prepared the employees to better absorb material. Nail Down Takeaways When employees return from learning sessions, it's vital for employees to bring new knowledge back to their managers and their teams. It's then up to managers to coach them on how to practice what they have just learned. This process reinforces what employees have absorbed, and helps open their eyes to how new concepts can be put to action. In the case of my manufacturing company client, for example, the subject matter expert met with a manager to debrief after the learning moment. Not only did the subject matter expert feel that employees learned a lot during the session, but she also found that she improved her own personal expertise as well. The manager then followed up with the employees that participated in the learning experience and suggested that they find one or two ways to incorporate new concepts into practice quickly. Closing the loop on learning and discussing takeaways helped seal the deal with regard to retention. I have always followed the advice I got early in my career: "If you are going to present something, always tell the audience what you are going to present, present it, and then recap what you just presented." Sometimes, understanding is just a matter of connecting the dots between learning and doing. Being very intentional and clear about your organization's approach to learning will put you on the journey towards becoming a learning organization. Photo: Creative Commons

A New Generation of Higher Education Leaders

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A New Generation of Higher Education Leaders

Behind every student and high-profile academic at a higher education institution is a team of dedicated professionals committed to their school’s excellence and success. These hundreds or even thousands of staff members fill roles and responsibilities that extend far beyond classroom walls – from finance to admissions, human resources to IT, operations to athletics. It goes without saying that institutions recognize the value of their talent and the many important roles these employees play – but with a large wave of baby boomer retirements and other unplanned staff turnover hitting higher education, many schools have recognized that they are behind on succession planning initiatives. Institutions are asking themselves, Who will lead our teams, departments and other organizations in the future? Are we doing enough (or anything) to prepare staff for evolving work requirements and job demands? Are we going to be all right? Making Succession Planning a Priority Two executives at the University of Scranton shared their observations with Inside Higher Ed about succession planning within their CIO organization, after the department head moved on to a new opportunity. Long before the CIO’s departure, the team had taken the steps to identify core competencies and prepare staff to assume broader responsibilities. When faced with an executive departure, business was able to continue as usual, thanks to their proactive strategic succession planning efforts. The experience of this one department at the University of Scranton is unique, as higher education institutions struggle with the concept of succession planning and how to make it a priority. In fact, I would wager that when asked to define "succession planning", the leadership at higher education institutions would default to the older, traditional way of thinking – that Person B will replace Person A upon his or her retirement or departure. Or, perhaps it represents the process of putting together a search committee to find a new job candidate after an executive-level departure. Looking To the Next Generation (Focus on the Work) These views on succession planning are shortsighted, and are no longer relevant for how the business of higher education is conducted. As with most other industries, higher education workforces are multi-generational, more collaborative, less focused on titles and hierarchy while increasingly focused on the competencies and skills required from a team to drive the department and the institution’s mission forward. The work (and how we do the work) is changing – therefore, so must the approach to succession planning. Succession planning must look towards the emerging jobs and responsibilities of tomorrow and address how to foster the next generation of institution leadership, beyond a department head. This philosophy can be challenging – it’s easy to let the concept of a job overshadow the realities of the work. However, it is critical to understand the work that needs to be done in order for a team, department or organization to be successful – and to use this insight as the basis for succession planning. When focusing on the work as opposed to the individual roles or jobs that make up an organization, higher education institutions can truly plan for future success. Leaders can think more broadly about the skills and competencies a workforce (as opposed to an individual) must possess and contribute across all levels of the organization. Career paths can be developed to guide employees to acquire needed skills and prepare to take on increased levels of responsibility and leadership – also aiding retention efforts, as staff will possess clearly defined growth paths, encouraging them to stay on and build their careers as opposed to looking elsewhere for new opportunities. Building a succession planning strategy should be viewed first and foremost as an opportunity – a chance to evaluate the kind of work required by the institution; the skills, knowledge and abilities that are required to successfully perform the work; and the employees with the potential to become a part of the next generation of leadership. Employees and departments will be set up to continuously learn and adapt to changing needs. Set-in-stone job descriptions with narrowly defined sets of responsibilities no longer apply. Institutions are no longer grooming the next individual executive, but rather grooming the entire workforce to prepare for the changes, challenges and opportunities that are coming in the future.

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