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Middle skills workers don’t have time for college, so we’re bringing college to them

Goodwill workers are rich with 21st century skills but not getting credit for them

For many team members at Goodwill San Antonio, the thought of going back to school is daunting. The two biggest barriers: time and money. Will their biggest motivations, self-pride and career advancement, be enough to persist through the barriers?

What if the time spent to degree didn’t necessarily mean time spent in classroom? What are the ways we can help retail workers leverage the skills being developed on the job toward a meaningful credential or degree?

At our design session in San Antonio this spring, the Lab had the unique privilege of going behind the scenes to see operations at the local Goodwill stores and warehouse. We realized many of the 21st-century skills other employers are looking for are ALREADY being exhibited on the job. For example: Determining a price code for a donated good is critical thinking, sorting items based on future trends in pop culture is pattern recognition, and dealing with customers requires empathy and communication.

Now how do we help workers earn credit for these job skills that can ‘stack’ into a valuable credential at the local community college?

If time is the biggest barrier to a team member’s entry into a certification program, how might we integrate some of the learning so it takes place on the job? Once we’re freed from the mindset that learning has to happen in the classroom, we could entertain the possibility of supervisors playing a role in the assessment of skills. Many team members wrote that they learn best when they are in an environment where exemplary professional skills are modeled regularly.. How can we channel this learning into something that can be assessed and credited by a formal higher ed institution?

To answer some of these questions, we looked to other emerging models that are working to get this right, from companies paying staff members to complete MOOCs to full tuition reimbursement for whole degree programs. As new models emerge, like Brandon Busteed’s Going Pro Early, which suggests students will increasingly get hired right out of high school and earn a degree while working, there’s more pressure to figure this out. Here’s what we have to learn from these existing programs:

Cuyahoga Community College

Some community colleges have taken the approach of physically bringing the college to the place of work. Cuyahoga Community College in Cleveland, Ohio, has done this with a 53-foot mobile training unit that can be pulled up alongside any workplace to teach hands on skills-based training for in-demand trades like welding, machining, and 3D printing. The biggest question here is how do we scale an approach like this beyond the number of people who can fit in a 53-foot vehicle?

Guild Education

Credit for prior learning is a key piece of the Guild model. The program seeks to meet learners where they are by giving them credit for skills they already have, removing any redundancies. By working with an education coach, they’ll help you get credit for previous college courses, workplace trainings, and find a program that fits best with both your past experiences and your career trajectory.

IBM and Northeastern Badge Program

With IBM’s new-collar program, a large percentage of the workforce doesn’t have a college degree. Instead, they’re being trained on the job with digital badges for the skills they need to remain competitive in their roles. For IBM employees who take advantage of the digital badge program and decide they’d like to get a formal degree, the badges they’ve earned translate to credits at Northeastern University. By transferring in prior learning as signified by digital badges, learners can save up to $6,000 in tuition and reduce the time to a graduate degree or certificate by up to one quarter term.

InStride (ASU and Starbucks)

Employees enrolled through this partnership will be reimbursed upon completion of certain ‘course milestones.’ ASU’s responsibilities include the academic side of the partnership—ensuring course quality, reviewing faculty credentials, developing and maintaining the program—and providing financial aid, advising and enrollment services. Starbucks’s responsibilities are far less, including determining which of its employees qualify for the program, and will otherwise work with the university to create a one-week mandatory orientation session and a “digital experience” to welcome students to the program.

Purdue Global and Cisco/Lily

Purdue Online is partnering with Fortune 500 companies, such as Lilly and Cisco, in two ways: co-developing online badges in important topics as well as enabling corporate-wide learning opportunities. A cornerstone for this model is the flexibility. The custom courses being offered by Purdue Global adapt to the learner’s work schedule opposed to requiring typical academic scheduling.

Between the combined resources of Alamo Colleges District and Goodwill San Antonio, team members will have access to a life skills coach, financial literacy, just in time resources, transportation benefits, and more. The line between school and work is blurring, and, for these team members, we aim to make these post-secondary resources as seamlessly accessible no matter where they are.