Our nation’s workforce development system is at a crossroads. One reason is that workforce development is not a system, it’s a collection of mostly independent organizations making well-meaning efforts to serve the hyperlocal workforce needs in their communities.
While these efforts are laudable, they are highly fragmented and typically lack the dimension and scope needed to develop and leverage economies of scale. Further, their lack of systematic coordination is truly a lost opportunity because over the past decade, advances in Software-as-a-Service technology delivery models and cloud computing infrastructure have allowed many industries and institutions to rethink what aspects of their business make sense to keep in-house, and what ones make more sense to outsource.
With an eye on these challenges, some companies in the private sector have demonstrated they have an important role to play in providing career pathway opportunities that provide economic mobility for those who want to work hard and commit to self-improvement. Many companies in the quick-serve restaurant and hospitality industries, for instance, have created standardized, industry-recognized training credentials.
Within these so-called, front-line industries, high-profile brands are jumping at the opportunity to implement new tuition assistance and workforce training programs to attract and retain hourly employees. Some of these education initiatives offer low-skilled adult workers tuition assistance to enroll in high school and college, while others provide upskilling programs to allow hourly workers to develop specific job-focused skills.
The philanthropic world is also making a concerted effort to upskill the workforce. But due to disconnections across the national nonprofit landscape, like-minded organizations often reinvent the wheel and create one-off programs that also lack scalability.
And, of course, locally focused nonprofits struggle to afford basic infrastructure and personnel. Local community service providers can become increasingly frustrated as they often must divert precious resources away from the communities and individuals they serve to focus on somewhat arbitrary outcomes and reporting requirements from national grant-making organizations.
The bottom line is, leading workforce development organizations, private sector companies and nonprofit organizations often recreate from scratch vital elements of the student learning lifecycle that already exist elsewhere at scale and at a low cost. These organizations could benefit from conducting a value chain analysis. Such an analysis would not only discern which elements of education and upskilling programs are best maintained locally, it would identify which elements could be improved by tapping into an individualized skills cloud.
An individualized skills cloud would be a utility-like learning service to which any individual or organization in the workforce development system could subscribe. All products and services typically associated with any student learning lifecycle would become instantly available and scaled up or down on demand, from an individual learner to cohorts of thousands of students. Workforce-focused organizations, for example, could partner with an individualized skills cloud provider to take advantage of efficiencies of scale, and standardization of data and analytics reporting.
An individualized skills cloud could be important because it would enable organizations to focus their limited resources on the front lines and better support the at-risk populations they serve. Right now, most operate independently, although many attempts have been made to coordinate efforts. Unfortunately, this patchwork of programs often ends up recreating the wheel when it comes to establishing the infrastructure necessary to deliver services to their constituents.
An individualized skills cloud could develop a value chain, and discrete sets of services would deliver higher quality outcomes at lower costs and quicker speeds than ever before. These services could be dialed up or down depending on organizational need and market demand. A movement toward such a cloud would allow government agencies, nonprofits and corporations to tap into 24/7 services that are increasingly becoming more sophisticated. This creates economies of scale, visibility across national efforts, and standardizes data and analytics reporting.
By providing the education platform, standardized curriculum, analytics, reporting and student support services, an individualized skills cloud can be the system behind government agencies, nonprofits and corporations, enabling them to be the best service providers they can be, and thereby exponentially increasing the impact of existing workforce development efforts.
Kevin Bauman is managing director of Strategic Partnerships and Alliances at Penn Foster Education Group.