Partnership and the Skills Gap: Employers and Educators Unite

August 10, 2017
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By Joan Andrews, Ready To Work Business Collaborative

The Skills Gap Hiring Problem

Addressing the skills gap is crucial in developing a strong, skilled workforce and hiring the best talent that fills employers’ needs. But given the scope of the problem, it’s hardly possible to go it alone.

Earlier this year I read an article in which Craig Yolitz, Vice President of Operations at FindLaw (, a Thomson Reuters business, expressed his frustration in finding qualified candidates to fill his current positions. Yolitz leads a global team of individuals developing digital marketing solutions for small law firms that is heavily involved in technology, marketing, big data, web development and search engine optimization. These are all hot topics in the world of marketing and IT, so why the difficulty?

Given the rapid evolution in these fields, technologies seem to be evolving on a monthly basis, and knowledge, skills and training from just a few years back is often rendered outdated or obsolete. Yolitz was struggling to find candidates with the necessary skills.

Frustrated, he reached out to a number of colleges and universities to discuss the skills gap. When he connected with the University of Wisconsin Stout, he met Kevin W. Tharp. As a Comprehensive Polytechnic University, they recognized the opportunity and wanted to learn how they could help. They saw a triple win – for FindLaw, the school and, more importantly, for students.

As Tharp and Yolitz shared at our June Convening, UW-Stout stepped up to the plate and collaborated with the Thomson Reuters business to design and develop the course work, and agreed to have FindLaw employees function as adjunct professors so UW-Stout could learn their needs from an on-the-ground perspective. After several years of learning and tweaking, the curriculum evolved from a minor to a major and UW-Stout now boasts the first BS degree in the country for Digital Marketing Technology.

Partners in Success

Why do I share this story? Partnership!  General consensus seems to be that there is a disconnect between educators and employers when addressing skills gap concerns, which include boomers retiring, millennials’ career choices, employee retention and the often overlooked ready-to-work talent pool who have generally been upskilled or reskilled.

Some businesses have come to the realization that partnership with educators and workforce boards must be a critical component of their strategy for hiring, retention and filling the skills gap.  RTWBC has been listening to employers across the country to learn best practices that meet the future and current needs of employers, as well as addressing an often overlooked talent pool of veterans, opportunity youth, people with disabilities and the long-term unemployed.

Our June convening addressed this topic from every perspective with presentations and panel discussions from employers, educators, and workforce development agencies that are developing solutions to these pressing employment issues.

Partners in Partnership

College for America, a subsidiary of Southern New Hampshire University, approached Partners HealthCare because they were aware of Partners’ innovation and how they were using technology as an enabler to support our working adults.

They offered Partners an Associate Degree Pilot. This was  extremely special because it was a business to business, we could help tailor it to our needs and it was a low cost, self paced, competency based education that we found very beneficial for our adult learners / employees. It was a Win,Win!!

Uniquely,  after the pilot Partners HealthCare approached SNHU requesting they help develop a new certificate in Health Care Management Fundamentals for College for America, a unique set of competency-based programs designed to meet employers’ workforce development needs. The certificate was intended to enable Partners to  prepare ambulatory support staff in Partners’ academic medical centers, for the new care delivery model.  They listened. In partnership, Partners and the College for America curriculum and workforce research team developed a clear understanding of needs and goals, then created a campaign where visible success promoted employee participation and enthusiasm.

Kathryn Decelles and Dena Lerra are the champions from Partners Healthcare and Melissa Goldberg and Amanda Cox coordinated the efforts on the part of the university. Now Partners has over 100 employees currently enrolled in College for America programs at SNHU working toward their certificate, associate’s, and bachelor’s degrees. All courses are virtual and competency-based so that once mastery is achieved, a student can continue along their chosen career pathway through a variety of academic certificate and degree programs.

We’d love to hear from you…

These success stories underscore the importance of collaboration and partnership. There is much conversation behind the walls of corporate America but my question is, are the halls of the universities listening?

Employers – what do you see? Have you approached educational institutions to address your hiring needs? What challenges have you faced?

Educators – what discussions have you had with employers in addressing the skills gap? What obstacles or successes have you experienced?