The Education-Workforce Connection

by RaeAnne Marsh


Top 50 Small Business Industry Leaders

Feature article in the special section “Workforce & Education: A Guide to Arizona’s Career Opportunities.” Click cover to view the entire section.

“A four-year bachelor’s degree in any subject used to be the most valuable thing you could do,” says Eric Flottmann, chief operating officer of Higher Ed Growth, a Tempe-based company that uses a marketing approach with colleges and universities worldwide to help them boost enrollment. But the fall 2014 Enrollment Pursuit Report he authored reveals that healthcare-related courses of study are the most popular — and not the four-year programs. These include healthcare administration, insurance billing and coding, and pharmacy technician, among others, but medical assistant has been the dominant choice. “The opportunity for jobs is high, and degrees are relatively easy to get, from a time perspective. They can get a two-year associate’s degree or take a certification programs and be ready to hit the work force,” Flottmann explains.

“Schools are interested in the report because this is the part they play in the system to educate folks so they can become functional, working citizens,” Flottmann says. “They come to companies like ours to help fill seats in the classroom.” HEG works with more than 300 schools — including Grand Canyon University and Arizona State University — to match individuals interested in going to school with the school and program appropriate for them. Flottmann says the company has begun a study “picking apart data from the Department of Labor statistics to see if [student] interest matches employer needs.”

CorpU works with employers, tailoring its educational program to the specific needs of each company. Charles Schwab is among the businesses with a local presence the Pennsylvania-based talent development company works with. While its focus is not on creating a talent pool where employers can find qualified talent — because it works with the work force that exists at its client companies — it addresses another type of skills gap.

Alan Todd, CorpU CEO, explains, “Senior leadership, in terms of their executive education leadership development, has tended to go to the top business schools — Harvard, MIT, Wharton. For middle managers and emerging leaders, access to leading thinkers has been cost-prohibitive. Therefore, they have been getting something less — ineffective e-learning or seminars.” The result, he notes, is a disconnect between the top of the house, where strategy is determined, and the rest of the business — managers, directors, employees — where the strategy is executed. Says Todd, “Education, from the CEO’s perspective, is the No. 1 way to bring strategy to life and get everyone on the same page.” And he adds, “The rate of change has accelerated at such a pace in business that continuous organizational learning is the only mechanism for keeping up and staying relevant.”

Working with the schools — for whom. according to Todd, this is an opportunity to grow their market and access a population who could not afford the traditional residential experience — CorpU has rebuilt their world-class teaching and learning programs for a digital experience.

CorpU is also working on a college-employer collaborative, in partnership with the Bill Gates Foundation and the Clinton Global Initiative, to build and donate programs to community colleges so they can bridge the skills gap “and deliver grads who have what companies like Boeing and Lockheed Martin need,” Todd says. “We’re flipping the talent supply chain on its head.” The traditional model, he explains, has been supplier-driven, with higher education as the supplier and industry as the buyer. Developing a demand-driven approach, “We have gone to the buyer and said, ‘Let’s build programs that produce the output that you need.’”

Internships are a traditional tool in the workforce preparation arsenal. Grand Canyon University and SEED SPOT, a local social impact incubator, have collaborated to recently launch an Internship for Entrepreneurs program. In a twist from the traditional, this internship program deliberately places interns with startup ventures. “We could send a student to a stable, large business, and the student will learn a lot but would help the company [only] a little, or only one employee,” says Randy Gibb, dean of GCU’s Colangelo College of Business, explaining that the help to a startup could make a significant difference to its success.

The program matches a student with an entrepreneur, considering both the student’s skill set and what he or she is passionate about, explains C’pher Gresham, director of entrepreneurial initiatives for SEED SPOT. Noting early-stage companies always have a need for more expertise in different areas, Gresham says students will also bring practical skills in different industry sectors, such as marketing and finance, and have the opportunity to take what they’re learning in an academic setting and apply it in a real-life setting.

Purposely developing the internships to not be a long-term commitment, Gibb hopes the students will have five to ten experiences throughout their undergraduate program — and that they create “a hiring pathway.”

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