How should the MPA curriculum be adapted to meet future workforce needs?
Nearly all MPA curricula require similar evidence of mastery of a common body of knowledge—for example, The Principals of Public Policy, Labor Relations, Performance Management, Organizational Theory. This is a good thing, and a solid foundation for the practical application of the principals that result in excellent service to the public.
The needs of the workforce continue to evolve, as society and technology and many other factors likewise evolve. We should be careful not to overemphasize the view that today’s workforce is fundamentally so very different from any workforce of the past. I believe the same things are important to the workforce today as have always been important, and the very reason why work is important to each of us. Security, life balance, competent leadership, reasonable expectations of performance—all of these are and will always be important, and public leaders have a responsibility to consider and properly administer to these factors.
What we might consider adding to the common curriculum are topics like Leadership (not management alone), Development of Cohesive Teams, The Pride of Difficult Work, and other soft skills lessons. The curriculum today is tried and true, and has delivered to the workforce extraordinary leaders. The workplace, perhaps, has changed to be more fluid, more dynamic, and yet more isolated in some ways. Our teaching, both in the classroom and in the workplace, should consider and support that.
How do we create lifelong learning systems? What changes in policy, program design, and implementation are needed?
The lifelong learning model is already in practice in some career fields. Especially in the technology fields where change in content is so rapid, we see companies worried less about four-year college degrees and more about individuals with demonstrated capability and credentials related to specific skills. We also see “stackable credentials”—that is, continuing accumulation of additional certifications that document advanced skill levels—as critical to career advancement. We see community colleges offering tailored Associate’s Degrees and credentials that support the workforce needs of local employers. These innovations give us an idea of what the future can look like.
We project that there are a number of career fields, such as healthcare, engineering, and information technology, in which future demand will exceed supply. We need to develop strategies at every level of government that support the development of credentialing programs for those fields, recruit and support future employees in those fields, and promote continuous learning and advancement for careers of the future.
Employers play a critical role in supporting lifelong learning beyond individual motivation and goal attainment. Since the bulk of our structured time is in the workplace and employers have a vested interest in maintaining a workforce with up-to-date skills for greater productivity and worker satisfaction, they naturally are the key player in this discussion. Additionally, employers, particularly larger organizations, have the infrastructure, resources and motivational tools to support lifelong learning.
In my experience, however, there are a number of critical factors that should be present for this employer support to be most effective:
What innovative and successful workforce training retraining programs currently exist that can scale more broadly?
Apprenticeships should be used much more widely. I learned how useful they can be when I worked at the U.S. Department of Labor supporting veteran employment, we worked closely with the Office of Apprenticeship to develop new pathways to civilian careers for veterans leaving military service.
The apprenticeship program managed by DOL is a true national asset! https://www.apprenticeship.gov/. As noted on the DOL website, “Apprenticeship is an industry-driven, high-quality career pathway where employers can develop and prepare their future workforce, and individuals can obtain paid work experience, classroom instruction, and a portable, nationally-recognized credential.”
Apprenticeships support entry level positions across a wide variety of career fields, from the traditional blue-collar trades through tech and even management tracks. These programs are driven by industry, certified by the federal government, and searchable online. They offer paths to new careers for job-changers and initial entry for new workers. They are a model program, having placed almost 700,00 new apprentices since January 1, 2017, who can expect to earn an average starting salary of $70,000.
How can we develop more standard qualifications and simplify cross-state portability for professional licenses?
All licensed or certified professions face the issue of too fine a focus on the local (jurisdictional) requirements, and putting practitioners through the intense effort to secure the fundamental knowledge to practice anywhere, then adding the (perhaps partly redundant) effort to prove the knowledge to practice in the state or local environment.
A more workable approach might be to ensure that the state-level licensing does not over-focus on the mastery of knowledge already proven and certified (by a degree, for example). Let’s open a discussion about how that can be done in a way that is respectful of the extraordinary due diligence required by state and local governments in granting certified or licensed professionals the authority to practice, but balances the testing and examination that practitioners must undergo to prove their fundamental skills. The capstone education and testing at the state level authority to practice should be a small percentage of the universal knowledge already gained and demonstrated in the broader profession.
How can we align education, training, and social welfare policies and programs to the new world of work?
The existing educational and training structures are, for the most part, effective in conveying the needed technical and cognitive skills for the new world of work. However, as Jeremy Haefuer, the Chancellor of the University of Denver points out, “Faced with a rapidly changing employment landscape due to automation, machine learning and robotics new graduates will need skills that are expressly human – emotional intelligence, effective communication and ethical leadership.” Many of the key requirements needed in the new world of work are non-cognitive competencies such as collaboration, adaptability to change, self-awareness, ability to interact with a diverse team, resilience, and so on—all of which are historically are not typically taught or measured in traditional curricula.
Even manufacturing jobs, which may appear to require only technical knowledge, now require a range of non-cognitive competencies as newer assembly lines are based on systems of flow that require line members to function and be accountable as a team and require workers to be interchangeable across positions and roles.
Non-cognitive skill development can certainly be built into formal education curricula, since skills, such as collaboration, are teachable in the traditional sense. If schools began to measure success in these competencies and hold students accountable for success in the competencies as they do English and Math, the incentives for both students and teachers to develop new world skills would be greatly enhanced.
Even with existing curricula, significant process changes made to how traditional subjects are presented can develop these key competencies. Models such as the “flipped classroom” and cross-curricula teaching support the development of these softer skills:
In addition, the competencies for the new workforce need to be supported by systems that encourage the connection between formal, school learning and informal, experiential learning. Embedding outside life projects into college curricula or employer-sponsored training such as service learning, apprenticeships, newer models of case study analysis, and the use of virtual reality scenarios can provide these experiential, non-cognitive lessons. Other structures such as digital badging allow students to organize their accomplishments, better structure their experiential learning and be recognized for skills acquisitions both inside and outside of the class room.
Any other thoughts?
To broaden the discussion on the Grand Challenge of Connecting Individuals to Meaningful Work, we should think about issues and solutions through a very long-range lens. We can and should discuss modifications to the common MPA curriculum, or driving successful workforce retraining programs to a larger scale, but we should not miss this opportunity to think about root-level topics that will support a successful strategy to address this challenge. These topics might include principles of human dynamics, fundamentally unbiased childhood education, interventions addressing technology addiction, and the family.
Root-cause level thinking allows us to open the discussion to a broader group of participants in developing and implementing solutions. This topic cannot be adequately addressed tactically or reactively. As we approach our work on this grand challenge, let’s step back from the questions that are obvious, and consciously and conscientiously consider the long view of what some might consider an intractable problem. This is not a challenge that we cannot develop working strategies to address. Rather, it will take thoughtful discussion among a broad range of passionate and innovative, solutions-driven people who are not easily distracted by the tactical, nor dissuaded by the seemingly impossible.