Kristen Gallo-Zdunowski // Drexel University
Within cooperative education and
work-integrated learning programs, we are hearing about the challenges ahead
for students because of the changing nature of work and the 21st century skills
gap. For all the talk, it is still hard to tell what skills our students need
for the rapid changes ahead and whether those skills are really different than
those most desired by employers over the past decade. It is clear that changes
to industry are happening and that students over the coming years will have a
different relationship to work. Now we must discuss how our own programs need
to change to keep up. Over the course of the past year, staff from Steinbright
Career Development Center and Close School of Entrepreneurship have developed a
close partnership. Using data available from the cooperative education program
at Drexel, we are examining how these changes are manifesting. From this work
we have found key themes and learned lessons we want to share about employers
and student perceptions, academic preparation, and how faculty and staff can
truly work together to benefit everyone.
In higher education we are now bombarded by articles and studies citing the changing nature of work, increases in contract and freelance work, and evolving skills needed to be successful. In career and experiential education, calls to prepare our students for these changes are continually increasing within our institutions and from our external stakeholders. First, we need to understand what these changes are and what employers are seeking. Then, we need to work across our universities to understand how our roles fit in to this shift and what we can do about it. These steps led to a close collaboration between Drexel University’s Steinbright Career Development Center and Close School of Entrepreneurship to examine connections between what employers want and how we are preparing our students.
Before getting into the steps we took, it is important to provide some context around the changes to the workforce and skills desired. According to the World Economic Forum, employers recognize and anticipate upcoming changes to their talent needs. The 2018 Future of Jobs report (an international survey of employers representing about 70% of the global GDP) found that in 2018 about 29% of task hours were completed by machines. By 2022 this is projected to rise to about 42% (World Economic Forum, 2018). That statistic alone is enough to cause concern. This is also likely to lead to changes in the work environment, as 50% of employers expect to see a reduction of their workforce (World Economic Forum, 2018). What does that mean for all the people currently performing those jobs about to be taken over by automation?
Yet, these concerns may be misplaced. While automation and changes to technology will be a primary driver of workforce and workplace changes, it does not mean we are likely to lose jobs. In fact, the Future of Jobs report also cited 38% of employers who anticipate creating new productivity-enhancing roles and estimates the creation of about 1.74 million new jobs (World Economic Forum, 2018). With shifting roles, the skills desired by employers are also shifting. More automation means human skills that cannot be programmed will be increasingly important. A LinkedIn report used data from their site to find the top skills employers want from candidates (Petrone, 2019). Topping the list was creativity, followed by persuasion, collaboration, adaptability and time management. This is echoed in the Future of Jobs report as well, where creativity, negotiation, critical thinking, and flexibility are identified as critically important in the coming years (World Economic Forum, 2018). At the same time the most recent Deloitte Millenial Mindset Survey found that only 20% of those surveyed felt they have the skills needed to succeed in industry 4.0, also sometimes called the 4th Industrial Revolution (Deloitte, 2019).
While I consumed information about all these changes, I could not help but wonder if we saw these changes in the cooperative education program. It felt to me as if we were seeing a shift in how employers described themselves and how ideal candidates were described. But just feeling a shift was not enough. Having worked with the Close School of Entrepreneurship since its founding, I went to a colleague and asked for some help. After all, many of these skills are hallmarks of those valued in entrepreneurship. This sparked a project we have now been working on for almost two years.
Co-op And The Close School At Drexel University
While co-op has been established for a long time at Drexel, the Close School for Entrepreneurship was founded less than a decade ago. Both have specific objectives for student learning and an openness that has allowed for close collaboration. Here I want to provide some background information about the program and about the Close School of Entrepreneurship before going into the steps we took to work together.
Cooperative Education at Drexel University
In 2019, the cooperative education program celebrates its 100th anniversary. This is a milestone we are very proud of, as it represents a century of helping students develop professionally and academically. In the 2017-18 academic year (the most recent year for which we have complete data), approximately 5,400 students participated in the cooperative education program along with about 1,500 employers. These numbers are steadily rising as incoming classes are growing, and in the 2019-10 academic year about 6,500 students are scheduled for co-op. With that we will likely see a rise in the number of employers participating as well. Students participate in six-month co-op employment cycles, alternating with six-months of class terms, in either our 4-year/1 co-op or 5-year/3 co-op program.
The cooperative education program at Drexel University is centrally administered through the Steinbright Career Development Center. This is a distinction from many other universities with cooperative education programs where decentralization is common. Collectively, we support 12 different colleges and schools with more than 80 different majors. With such diverse academic programs, we see students employed across many different industries and types of employers. Most students, around 80% each year, stay in the greater Delaware Valley for co-op (including Philadelphia, surrounding suburbs, New Jersey, and Delaware), with the other 20% co-oping nationally or internationally.
At the end of each co-op cycle, our students are required to complete a self-evaluation and reflection. Our employers are invited to complete an evaluation of each student employed. Items on each evaluation are mapped to the NACE Career-Readiness Competencies and the Drexel Student Learning Priorities. Each college or school can add specific questions to the evaluations to be used for their own assessment or accreditation purposes. Data from the evaluations is shared annually with our academic partners in an effort to provide up-to-date feedback about the academic and professional preparation of students.
Close School of Entrepreneurship
The Close School of Entrepreneurship was founded in 2013 at Drexel University. Unlike many universities, where entrepreneurship programs are housed under a school of business, the Close School was created to be distinct from that model. If you have the opportunity to speak with any of the staff or faculty from the Close School, you are likely to hear the phrase “entrepreneurship education empowers everyone.” The curriculum is designed to address entrepreneurship in two ways. The first is the process of entrepreneurship, which encompasses business functions associated with starting a new venture or encouraging innovation in an established company. This includes accounting, finance, marketing, and law. The second aspect is what makes the Close School curriculum unique, a focus on the person as an entrepreneur. Courses in this area focus on personal and professional skill building including resiliency, mindfulness, building and working in teams, and creativity. Regardless of the industry students are interested in, we see how critical these skills are for the future.
The Close School currently offers one undergraduate degree, Bachelor of Arts in Entrepreneurship and Innovation, with three concentration options: social entrepreneurship, new venture creation, and corporate entrepreneurship. These concentrations are also available minors within the college at the undergraduate level. A graduate degree is also available, a Master of Entrepreneurship and Innovation, along with three interdisciplinary graduate degrees offered in collaboration with other colleges and schools at the university. In many ways, the Close School is a start-up within Drexel University. The staff are continually evaluating the courses offered with student and employer feedback. There is recognition that pivots may be needed, and the school is nimble enough that changes to curriculum have already been implemented since its inception.
In addition to the formal degree programs offered, the Close School serves as a hub of entrepreneurial programming and courses available to the entire Drexel community. To that end, the Baiada Institute of Entrepreneurship serves as an incubator to students and local entrepreneurs developing new ventures. The Institute reports up through the Close School and the opportunities for learning are numerous. Incubating businesses receive mentorship and space to get their ideas going. Student often work or intern with the companies. Others serve in work-study roles helping to run the efforts of the Institute and getting exposed to the start-up community. There are a few ways for a business to gain a space in the incubator including winning one of the annual pitch competitions, applying for flex-space, or being selected for the entrepreneurship co-op program. As part of the entrepreneurship co-op, students will work for a full 6-month co-op cycle for their own business, with space in the Baiada Institute. Those selected have regular goal check-ins to monitor progress, are assigned a mentor with entrepreneurial experience, and receive $15,000 toward their business venture. The selection process is competitive and open to all undergraduate students at the university.
Steinbright And Close Partnership
Having an idea of both units at Drexel, now we turn to the project we have been undertaking together. Steinbright serves as a hub of career development, while the Close School is a hub of innovation. These things need to come together as we look toward the future of career preparation for our students, given all the changes already discussed here. Our collaboration began with a feeling that we were seeing those changes reflected within the co-op program. But a feeling is never enough. We needed to measure those changes. Were co-op employers changing the skills needed for the roles? Were co-op employers changing their practices and how they described themselves? Could those changes be aligned with the core curriculum at the Close School?
Luckily for us, we had an incredible amount of data from years of the co-op program. To answer these questions, we decided to focus in on our co-op job descriptions. Co-op positions at Drexel University are posted within our homegrown database and require that employers include information about their company or department, along with a description of the role and qualifications needed. We wanted to focus on co-op first since we had a data set that could easily be used and because co-op employment trends follow larger employment trends. For example, the 2008 recession hit co-op employment along with full-time roles, and when Philadelphia experienced a nursing shortage in the last few years, that shortage became clearly evident in the high number of postings for nursing co-op students. Our goal in looking through job descriptions was to determine if we saw any changes in the language used by employers. First, we examined how employers described themselves, and thereby how they appealed to students looking for forward-thinking companies. Second, we examined how employers described the qualifications and tasks for each job to assess whether or not employers saw a need for 21st century and entrepreneurial skills.
Critical Thinking/Problem Solving
Figure 1. Employer and Candidate Descriptive Terms
In order to do this, we needed to determine what keywords or themes are most closely associated with changes in skills and the workforce, and with entrepreneurship education. To identify these, we conducted a robust literature review aimed at identifying skills and adjectives key to the 4th Industrial Revolution, along with entrepreneurial education. This led to the development of two separate lists, though with much overlap, including words employers may use to describe their business and words used to describe what they seek in candidates. These skills were admittedly hard to pin down, but several resources served as rich sources of information on the topic including the Future of Jobs Report (World Economic Forum, 2018), Educating the Next Wave of Entrepreneurs (World Economic Forum, 2009), Entrepreneurship Comes of Age on Campus (Ewing Marion Kauffman Institute, 2013), Partnership for 21st Century Skills (2019), and enGauge 21st Century Skills (Lemke, 2002). Our final list of skills can be found in figure 1 below. For certain words, we used the stem in order to account for different forms (i.e. “creat” was used to account for creativity, create, and creative).
We decided to include 10 years of co-op descriptions for this review. This included all jobs posted for the cooperative education program across all majors dating back to the 2008-2009 academic year. In total, more than 68,000 job descriptions were included. This was done intentionally, as we wanted to determine whether or not we saw changes across majors and industries, not just within a particular discipline. As we have seen, changes in technology and the workforce are far-reaching and impact many industries in different ways. After gathering this information, we used Excel to run a text analysis to find instances of the words across each year of job descriptions in the two different sections: employer description and job description/qualifications. We then looked at the number of instances and percentage of jobs each year that included these words to see if we found an increase over time. An increase would indicate to us that employers were changing how they describe themselves, how they describe their ideal candidates, or both.
We ultimately found modest increases with only a few terms, yet these terms proved to be very interesting. For the employer descriptions, we found that the three terms with the largest percent increase were creative (8% increase), innovative (6% increase) and inspiration (4% increase). In thinking about why these terms came up, we referenced the Deloitte Millennial Mindset Survey (2019), which reported that 76% of Millennials surveyed felt businesses prioritize their own agendas over the betterment of society. Given these sentiments, it is understandable that employers may be trying to position themselves as different from the rest — they want to be viewed as change-makers to attract talent among the largest generation in the workforce. For the job descriptions and qualifications themselves, we found the top three skills that increased over time to be creativity (17% increase), adaptability/flexibility (9% increase), and initiative (8% increase). These are in line with the changing skills mentioned earlier, cited in numerous surveys and reports. It confirmed for us that the change was real, even if small or modest for now, and that there is potential for the Close School to impact skill development with their focus on the person as an entrepreneur.
Conclusions And Next Steps
While we took away some important ideas about what employers are seeking and how they want to be viewed, we also want to know more. The skills employers want, and the skills students view as most important, are now the focus of our continuing work together. Having seen that there were differences over time, we thought more critically about what students are gaining from their studies in the Close School. Being just a few years old, we have a chance to look at data for a population from the very inception of the school through to the current year. Our next step is to dive into the student and employer evaluations of co-op experiences with a focus on how students describe their classroom preparation and what courses were most relevant during their co-op experience. We will be using qualitative coding of free response questions to see if themes emerge or whether or not there are trends in the courses considered most useful.
Another major point of learning was the
power of working across our units. We were able to gain full buy-in from both
departments. At our top levels of leadership, there has been support and
encouragement to continue working together to find data that will better inform
all of us. It all started with a simple conversation between two colleagues,
and then some follow through to get the ball rolling. Now we have presented at conferences,
to our own units, and involved students in the conversation. Working in career
development at a university like Drexel, where there is such a strong focus on
career preparation, we are often asked how to get academic and faculty buy-in.
A lesson learned from this project is that you can start small. You do not need
a Dean to get on-board at first. Look for the champions. These are the people
who believe in your mission, but work in another context. They are the people
who quietly want to influence change or answer questions. Those are the people
you can build a foundation with, and then grow to do more. These partnerships
serve as strong examples of academic integration and efforts to positively
impact our students. At Drexel, we have much more work to do, but are ready to
jump into our next project together.
Deloitte. (2019). The Deloitte global millennial mindset survey 2019. Retrieved from https://www2.deloitte.com/global/en/pages/about-deloitte/articles/millennialsurvey.html
Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. (2013). Entrepreneurship comes of age on campus: The challenges and rewards of bringing entrepreneurship to higher education. Kansas City, MO: Ewing Marian Kauffman Foundation.
Lemke, C (2002). EnGauge 21st century skills: Digital literacies for a digital age. Washington, DC: Office of Educational Research and Improvement.
Partnership for 21st Century Learning. (2019). Framework for 21st century learning definitions. Retrieved from http://static.battelleforkids.org/documents/p21/P21_Framework_DefinitionsBFK.pdf
Petrone, P. (2019, January 1). The skills companies need most in 2019 – and how to learn them. Retrieved from https://learning.linkedin.com/blog/top-skills/the-skills-companies-need-most-in-2019–and-how-to-learn-them
World Economic Forum. (2009). Educating the next wave of entrepreneurs. Geneva, Switzerland: World Economic Forum.
World Economic Forum. (2018). The future of jobs report. Geneva, Switzerland: World Economic Forum.