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Addressing Critical Workforce Shortages Through Innovative Delivery Models


This is a recap of a panel discussion from the 2024 ASU+GSV Summit, featuring WGU’s Jason Levin and Stacey Ludwig Johnson among others. Watch the full session below.

Workforce shortages are a pressing challenge across numerous industries, from healthcare and education to technology and manufacturing. These talent gaps stem from a combination of factors, including the increasing demand for specialized skills, the rising bar of experience required for entry-level roles, and the mismatch between the skills possessed by job seekers and the needs of employers.

As Ryan Craig, managing director at Achieve Partners, explained, "There are jobs across the economy that are demanding a combination of digital skills, business and industry knowledge, and role-specific expertise that even a decade ago didn't have that level of specificity." This skills gap is not limited to certain sectors but is prevalent wherever technology and software platforms have become integral to job functions.

Jason Levin, executive director of WGU Labs and Stacey Ludwig Johnson, senior vice president and executive dean of the School of Education, presented at the 2024 ASU+GSV Summit.

Diversifying the Teacher Pipeline

One of the most well-known workforce shortages is in the field of education, where there is a significant need for more teachers, particularly those who reflect the diversity of the student population. Stacey Ludwig Johnson, senior vice president and executive dean of the School of Education at Western Governors University (WGU), highlighted the challenge:

"There's about 8% turnover of teachers within their first year. About 50% leave in the first five years of their employment as a teacher, and that's a real challenge when you consider the impact that has on student outcomes in their classrooms."

To address this, WGU is exploring innovative approaches like teacher apprenticeships, to diversify the teacher pipeline and better support educators throughout their careers. 

Bridging the Skills Gap Through Apprenticeships

Apprenticeships offer a promising solution to workforce shortages, providing a paid, work-based learning pathway that allows individuals to gain the necessary skills and experience while earning a living. However, the adoption of apprenticeships in the United States has been relatively low compared to other developed countries.

Craig explained, "We've gone all in on tuition-based infrastructure for career launch in this country, while other countries have hedged their bets to a much greater extent and invested much more relatively speaking in earn and learn infrastructure for career launch."

To address this, policymakers and education providers are exploring ways to incentivize and streamline the adoption of apprenticeships, particularly in fields like technology, healthcare, and education. Stephanie Loeck, managing director of the EdTech Evidence Exchange at InnovateEDU, emphasized the need to "start thinking about work-based learning pathways in really meaningful ways that frankly, most small companies, rural companies and most of our economy just can't afford to do today without help." 

Competency-Based Education and Apprenticeships: A Powerful Combination

The integration of competency-based education and apprenticeships offers a particularly promising approach to addressing workforce shortages. As Johnson called out, "It's the perfect mesh because then you get the acceleration as well, which is high value." By allowing students to demonstrate their competencies through on-the-job application, rather than just through exams, this model can accelerate the path to certification and licensure while ensuring graduates are prepared for the realities of the workplace.

Moreover, this approach can help diversify the teacher pipeline by providing a more accessible and supportive pathway for individuals, such as paraprofessionals, who are already working in schools and can apply their practical experience towards a teaching degree.

Overcoming Barriers and Driving Systemic Change 

While the potential of innovative delivery models like apprenticeships and competency-based education is clear, there are still significant barriers to widespread adoption. These include navigating the complex web of regulations and funding sources, incentivizing employer participation, and ensuring equitable access to these programs.

To drive systemic change, panelists emphasized the need for a holistic, ecosystem-based approach that engages employers, education providers, and policymakers. As Craig suggested, "You need to approach districts and states as clients and solve a business problem for them." By aligning these stakeholders and designing solutions that address their specific needs, the workforce shortage crisis can be tackled more effectively.

The path forward requires a combination of policy reform, strategic partnerships, and a willingness to challenge the status quo. By embracing innovative delivery models and centering the needs of both employers and learners, the education and workforce development systems can better prepare individuals for the jobs of today and tomorrow, addressing critical workforce shortages across the nation.

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