Rewarding Careers: Education Leaders Address Talent Shortages

Education leadership are grappling with remaining relevant in everything from the programs and curriculum, to technology integration. Strategic investments are designed to elevate access, equity, affordability, diversity, and other persistent challenges within an industry that presents the all-important “foot in the door” to paying, viable and rewarding careers.

As AIM Institute Vice President of Advancement and Community Relations Itzel Lopez puts it, the pandemic has heightened demand for technology and the need to ensure everyone has basic knowledge of tech concepts.

“We have accelerated our tech opportunities and have made them equitable and accessible for all,” she explained. “When it comes to tech, there is a misconception that it is too complex to even address.”

Accordingly, AIM has focused on fun and informative opportunities. For instance, its complimentary “Demystifying Tech” workshops are offered in hybrid, in-person and remote formats. These workshops explore five main areas: infrastructure, support, data, development and design.

“By the end of the workshop, participants will have a better understanding of the career opportunities available through tech and which best matches their interests and goals,” she said.

When asked about “in-demand” skill sets, Lopez referred to upskilling.

“Through our ‘Callers to Coders’ program, we’ve designed a corporate training program that helps participants learn crucial career skills, which takes them on a path to become qualified IT professionals,” she said.

Skills-based coding, programming, web development, and business intelligence are designed to remove barriers to entering higher-skill job fields.

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Additionally, Lopez said IT managers are learning essential skills to adapt to changing global competition, workforces, and emerging technologies through AIM’s leadership academies. What started as around 100 tech professionals, the academies have now expanded nationally and globally.

Collectively, programs aim to develop skills for placement in H3: “High skill,” “High demand” and “High pay” jobs.

“These employment opportunities can change the trajectory of an individual’s life,” Lopez said.

AIM is targeting increased opportunities for historically underrepresented groups; for instance, the institute recently secured a $50,000 grant from Google for its new CB Tech Career Acceleration Program in the Council Bluffs area. A job-readiness program with the Council Bluffs Area Chamber of Commerce, Centro Latino of Iowa and Iowa Western Community College is designed to help underemployed individuals living below the poverty line (with a focus on the Latino community). Following completion of the program, graduates are qualified for placement as front-end web developers.

She also said AIM is collaborating with Omaha Public Schools to offer Omaha South freshmen an overview of the core field techs to ignite interest in pursuing these opportunities in the local sector, which increases diverse representation.

Flexible Options

Over the past year, Dr. Matt Davis said Bellevue University has made significant operational and teaching footprint adjustments.

“While we have been an online university since the late 1990s, we have adjusted our online delivery platform to include live video, introduced mixed-mode hybrid courses, where we have students on-campus and online combined into a single technology-enabled classroom, and expanded our teaching and staffing model to robustly support both on-campus and remote professors and employees,” said the executive vice president and dean of the college of professional education.

He said this expansion has positively impacted its student retention, enrollment, and employee engagement indicators.

Davis further referenced the introduction of short-term certificates, certifications in high-demand technology and management areas, and skills-building in business, health care and technology domains.

“Some of our fastest-growing programs include short-term Certificate in Management and Leadership; Bachelor of Science in Cybersecurity; Master of Science in Clinical Counseling; and our Doctor of Business Administration degree, which has seen 90% year-over-year growth,” he specified.

Drivers include employers’ difficulty in staffing open positions. So, he said, they are partnering with the university to offer Education Benefit Plans.

“Second, on the employee demand side, employees are seeking out high-demand, high-skill and high-wage careers that offer accessible paths to greater economic mobility,” he said.

Lastly, Davis said employers are challenged to attract and develop “middle-skill technical trades” talent. Those positions require intense technical training and industry certification, but not degrees.

To support these efforts, Davis said Bellevue University recently opened a state-of-the-art, tech-enabled greenhouse for its undergrad research and emerging ag science-related programs, and new math and science labs.

“In addition to those learning facilities, we added new student housing to serve single students and support student-parents and opened the El Camino Latino Center, which is an on-campus community center that supports local and online Latino students,” he said.

The launch of new certification programs – from medical cannabis to project management and Amazon web services – is on the horizon. Davis said it’s poised to go live with Google Career Certificates in data analytics, user experience design, IT support and project management later this year.

Talent Pipeline

Vice President of Academic Affairs Dr. Kimberly Allen highlighted the College of Saint Mary’s Occupational Therapy Doctorate (OTD), which recently received accreditation from the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education of the American Occupational Therapy Association. The program launched in fall 2019 and the first OTD cohort will graduate in May.

“CSM also recently received a $1.3 million grant from the National Science Foundation to enable the university to continue funding its Marie Curie Scholarship program,” she added.

The program provides significant financial support and resources for women pursuing degrees in biology, chemistry, math or human biology. For instance, recipients receive up to $20,000 toward education annually while living on campus and meeting requirements.

Resources include tutors and research opportunities.

“Continued investment in increasing the number of women in STEM career fields remains a CSM priority,” Allen said.

Broadly, Allen characterized building the pipeline to K-to-12 education and nursing careers as “essential” amid regional and national crises within these professions.

“In addition, prospective students are asking for options for course delivery, specifically online options for degree completion,” she said.

For example, CSM launched its hybrid-learning and competency-based model (with core faculty certified in online instruction) Doctor of Physical Therapy program, in 2020. The approach allows students to balance living and learning while attending six, week-long onsite sessions through the academic year.

“This hybrid model also affords us the opportunity to recruit a diverse and talented faculty,” she said. “Currently, 70% of our faculty are from underrepresented populations within the field of physical therapy education.”

Likewise, she continued, CSM has modified leadership and education programs to be 100% online, including its Master of Science in Organizational Leadership and Doctor of Education.

The pay-off of these efforts has been tremendous; Allen noted that 50% of admitted students in the physician assistant studies program are considered “diverse” (first-generation, low-income, rural, and/or by race/ethnicity).

Additional investments to support CSM’s growth include its $18 million Lied Center Fitness Center Fieldhouse, a 75,000-square-foot addition to, and 15,000-square-foot renovation of, its existing center. The fieldhouse features an indoor golf simulator, competition-quality indoor track, and Human Performance Lab for faculty and students to engage in hands-on research.

CSM also launched its RISE mentoring program last fall, which matches current seniors with alumni mentors from all over the country.

“The participating students’ areas of study include nursing, biology, education, paralegal, and applied psychology, among others,” she said. “New facilities, scholarly approaches to solving community problems, and innovative partnerships position us well for future endeavors.”

CSM is challenged, according to Allen, to remain nimble while navigating the evolving higher-ed landscape and changing student needs.

“The traditional college experience is in jeopardy, as there is no longer homogeneous majority with only few variations,” she said. “Prospective student needs and workforce demands are complex and diverse. Our approach to higher education must follow suit.

Continued growth in academic programs at CSM will embrace innovative and inclusive teaching practices, focus on earlier access to in desired professions and prioritize career readiness.”

Promoting Cross-collaboration

Last May, the University of Nebraska Medical Center announced its selection of Denver-based, health care-centric Koelbel and Company and Omaha-based GreenSlate Development to lead the redevelopment and renovation of the Omaha Steel Works/Omaha Steel Castings property into a “mixed-use innovation technology campus.” Omaha’s The Lund Company is leading property management efforts.

Reportedly, the completed $45 million, 140,000-square-foot multi-use project will function as an “innovation hub,” whereby researchers turn health and health care ideas into viable products and companies. This is just one facet of the campus. UNMC reports the project will span a food hall, market, events center, and collaborative office space.

UNMC Innovation Hub will house the likes of UNeMed, UNeTech, and UNeHealth, a contracting and fiscal arm for industry-funded clinical trials, as well as the Nebraska Business Development Center.

In an update provided by UNMC, the design and construction of a key component of the Saddle Creek development is moving forward via the addition of design/construction lead T&G Investments: the UNMC admin building at the southwest corner of Saddle Creek Road and Farnam Street. The 350,000-square-foot building will house critical functions – from workspace and collaboration for clinicians, to administrative headquarters for many university and health care system functions.

An announcement reads that the “project includes other mixed-use spaces and multi-modal connectivity that will benefit UNMC’s neighbors and the city of Omaha.” Site redevelopment of the former Omaha Steel “home” was described as an “important step as UNMC continues to grow as a health care leader nationally and internationally.”

UNMC and Nebraska Medicine Director of Facilities and Clinical Space Planning Brian Spencer also characterized the project as a “keystone development, connecting the main body of campus to the new Saddle Creek site,” and that the space will replace an “end-of-life facility” for the med center.

“It will remove space pressure from the critical areas in the clinical and teaching core of campus, while still allowing easy access to campus and helping to further our sustainability goals,” he explained.

T&G reportedly has a track record in similar-type projects while also having a track record within the Omaha market. Notables include Think Whole Person Healthcare and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Nebraska headquarters.

Focus on the Program

The University of Nebraska at Omaha is also a pioneer in the online learning space, with Senior Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs, Dr. Sacha Kopp, noting growth from one program (public administration) in the late 1990s, to 12 undergrad programs and seven graduate programs fully online at present. He also described online as part of the “fabric” of the campus, with the “vast majority” of students taking at least one such course before graduating.

“We are going to learn a great deal about student needs for online learning,” Kopp said.

“We’ve heard over and over about how excited students were to return to campus life this academic year after last year’s ‘remote learning.’ At the same time, even more students are taking advantage of the flexibility of online courses that complement their on-campus courses.”

As students entering the workforce, he said, many are using online opportunities to allow balance employment and school.

A four-year timeframe between 2016 and 2020 provided a solid foundation to build upon when adopting critical learning technologies, according to Assistant Vice Chancellor for Curriculum and Programs Dr. Sarah Edwards.

“Using these robust, accessible platforms as a basis, now our work is focused on equipping our classrooms for the future as well as continuing to offer professional development for faculty,” she said. “Much of the professional development and training we are investing in as an institution primarily focuses on faculty in order to ‘humanize online.’ Humanizing the digital environment is all about building community and creating meaningful connections with one another through digital tools.”

UNO offers online programs (in addition to campus offerings) in many high-demand areas, including cybersecurity, business, IT and social work. Access and affordability are also being addressed via partnerships with the likes of Open Educational Resources (OER).

“OER is free or reduced-cost digital course materials used in lieu of a standard textbook,” said Chancellor Dr. Joanne Li. “These digital course materials are integrated right into the learning management system (Canvas) and available the first day a class starts.”

She said OER and first day access eBooks have saved University of Nebraska students $7.7 million-plus over the past few years (UNO students alone have saved $2.2 million).

”I have prioritized workforce development and developing ‘microcredentials’ and other certificate programs in high-demand areas critical to the Omaha economy,” Li added.

“These programs will provide opportunities for students to expand their horizons, grow professionally and enhance their skill sets in less time than a traditional undergraduate or graduate program.”