College of DuPage strives to meet new workplace demands

Meeting the demands of the workplace always has been a priority for College of DuPage. We work closely with employers and legislators to determine what needs should be addressed at any given time.

The U.S. Department of Labor currently is predicting a shortfall of more than 2 million skilled workers by 2020.

The evolving nature of technology and its impact on business and industry are changing the types of skills that employers are seeking in their employees.

IBM CEO Ginni Rometty is credited with coining the term "new-collar worker," which applies to employees who gain technical and soft skills through programs offered by community colleges, vocational schools, software boot camps and the like.

According to a recent article in Inside Higher Ed, educators will be responsible for teaching the core skills of critical thinking, communication and leadership while endeavoring to stay ahead of the curve on technology and emerging practices. Students also need to understand that adaptability is key in dealing with continual change created by new technology.

College of DuPage is committed to addressing these needs. Project Hire-Ed, which I have written about in the past, is the college's workforce development program that aligns postsecondary education with certain workforce skill requirements through partnerships with area employers.

In July, Project Hire-Ed welcomed 11 students into its inaugural class. The first day of instruction included presentations from three area employers and tours of the college's Technical Education Center.

It is exciting to see how this project has developed, and we will monitor it closely to see how it can be adapted to help a multitude of area employees.

COD also offers an array of certificate programs. According to Inside Higher Ed, the difference in earning potential between employees who hold a high school diploma and those with a certification can be as much as 20 percent in some occupations.

One of the key benefits of a certificate program is how quickly a student can complete the program requirements and then start working. Many of the college's certificates can be finished in one or two semesters.

The coursework completed in a certificate program may be stackable. This means students can build upon skills acquired through one certificate by completing a second program that teaches new competencies. For employees already in the workforce, a certificate also is a quick way to update skills.

COD offers a wide range of certificate programs in technology, health care, business, computers and other fields. Credits earned in certificate programs often can be applied to an associate degree.

Students can gain the credential, start working and then later take courses that fulfill requirements for a degree.

Another option for students is professional training programs offered through the college's Continuing Education Division and its Business Solutions program. Business Solutions provides rapid training and development through noncredit programming, professional workshops and on-site training.

In order to support economic growth, the college often explores new program opportunities that address specific training requirements in our community college district.

Businesses will find that the Continuing Education Division can fashion programs to meet many employee training needs.

All of this is not to discourage students seeking traditional degrees. Plenty of careers still require more in-depth education. Students can build upon associate degrees and transfer into programs that lead to bachelor's, master's and Ph.D. degrees.

But meeting the demands of the workforce requires College of DuPage to work closely with our stakeholders. This means that we must listen to the needs that stakeholders express, be creative in developing new programs and provide students with the skills they need to begin satisfying careers.

We enjoy strong working relationships with many key employers in the area. Through these relationships, we come to understand current trends and seek to interpret future indicators.

Programs such as Project Hire-Ed and Business Solutions, along with our strong certificate offerings, are examples of how we provide the best training possible to help students enter the workforce with skills that employers desire to promote business growth and a vibrant regional economy.

• College of DuPage President Brian Caputo's column appears monthly in Neighbor.

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