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Covid-19 is accelerating the creation of options for adult learners

The Covid-19 pandemic forced Educational Institutions to move to the digital environment. Although this change has been full of challenges, it’s something that must have happened a long time ago. Due to the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the demand for digital skills has been on the rise, mainly due to artificial intelligence and automation.
Thanks to social distancing and confinement, much of the workforce was immersed in an online ecosystem. For example, the hiring processes are digitised since the application, selection and interview process is carried out on digital platforms, for the most part, due to the closure of Corporate Offices. This promoted practices such as talent analysis, pre-evaluation and even simulation-based hiring, where they perform tasks that applicants will have on the job if they get it. Furthermore, due to the global demand for retraining, lifelong learning is critical to find a job and keep it. This is why there has been a boom in flexible digital learning offerings. Coursers reported earlier this month that there was a 38% revenue growth caused by the brilliance of obtaining entry-level professional certificates. In addition, there was an increase of around 75% in micro-credentials granted by Companies, Industry Associations and other non-Institutional providers.
Although digital skills demand is becoming stronger in the job market, alternative credentials still generate debate. When micro-credentials, such as coding boot camps, complement institutional education, they are well received; however, if they are managed as a replacement for a University degree, they are not well accepted as the University degree remains a priority.
But, due to the forced shift to remote work, more and more employers are adopting hiring strategies that consider skills and abilities more than a College degree. This opens up the possibility of getting a better job for those who cannot afford College but can pay for online courses. This last point is especially significant for the 37% of adult students, that is, those over 25 years of age, who had to abandon their dreams of obtaining a University degree due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Having access to digital credentials suits them because of the price, which is not always the problem but also because it allows them to continue working and take care of their family.
Sean R. Gallagher, Executive Director of the Centre for the Future of Higher Education and Talent Strategy at North Eastern University, estimates that half of the employers in the United States are researching or are already researching competency-based hiring approaches. Some examples are Companies like Apple, Netflix, IBM and Google.
The University degree remains a priority when hiring talent; however, there is an excellent opportunity to increase, improve and adapt these educational certificates for adult students. One way to do this is through ‘career paths’ such as the one in the Tec21 Model, in which personalisation of learning is combined with an established path to choose, enter and complete the career. In addition, it can be complemented by online coaching, micro-credentials and allows you to adapt directions as the world of work changes. In the case of Tecnológico de Monterrey and its Tec21 Model, students begin their University career by choosing a discipline, such as engineering or business. They are guided to continue training according to their interests. This allows students to have a flexible and personalised education that focuses on their abilities and passions. Even when they can adapt to their study program and not enter a profession, they will graduate with a University degree according to their trajectory.
Educational Institutions recognise how rapidly the 25+ learning market has changed and support two-year Colleges by designing new pathways based on research and evidence. A new concept to help adult learners is ;incremental accreditation’, which divides grades and learning into small units. Additionally, students earn credentials in each class towards a professional degree, unlike the traditional credit-earning model. In case of not completing their studies, this allows that each course has a recognised value, unlike a University degree where it is usually ‘all or nothing’.
Accreditation frameworks have also been developed, such as the SUNY Empire State College ‘Credential on the Go’ initiative or the Work red project focused on incorporating certifications into Undergraduate degrees to improve the relevance of adult degree programs in the labour market. A local example is TecMilenio University, which created the Centre for the Development of Competencies (CDC). In conjunction with Companies, the CDC creates content and programs based on competencies in demand in real life. All these efforts have in common the creation of entirely new frameworks and tools that depend on cross-sector collaboration to create a market with more digital learning options.
The Higher Education sector is constantly under pressure to improve the employability of graduates and ensure that they are aligned with the needs of the labour market, even though these are continually changing. However, employers do not participate in post-secondary education or do not maintain support. The industry sees Universities as providers of talent, as coaches for its next workforce.
The Experiential Learning Models are a way for employers to support students in their job search since, more than offering a traditional internship, it would allow them to apply for a position within a company, provided that it has projects to integrate applicants. For example, within the effort of Tec21 to link students with the environment, there is the ‘Professional Experience Model’ (MEP), where the student has the opportunity to work a semester in a Company on a full-time schedule having special projects to revalidate subjects. Thus the student will have real and professional experience while strengthening the skills.
Some jobs are experimenting with alternatives to traditional post-secondary education options, offering credentials related to the skills most valued within the workforce. According to an analysis by Strada Education Network, one in ten people surveyed obtained some certificates through a company. These types of alternatives offer a growing range of digital options for adult learners. Although alternative credentials remain a developing area, those unable to obtain a professional degree may be their only option to grow in an ever-changing job market. Both employers and educational leaders must monitor and analyze these alternatives to offer a more versatile ecosystem of possibilities.

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