In 2015, Initiatives, Inc., was asked by The University of Kansas Edwards to create a process designed to build a clear understanding of regional employer’s needs. The goal was to make the Edwards campus the “front porch” for The University of Kansas for Kansas City employers seeking qualified talent.
In 2015, KU Edwards wanted to address a growing national education trend of a “disconnect” between higher education and the business community. Market trends are increasingly changing the types of skills needed in the knowledge economy leaving employers increasingly challenged with a lack of qualified talent. Companies are requiring technical and workplace skills that college graduates are often not prepared to deliver. Positions are often left unfulfilled or fulfilled by other means. Private sector and online models also present a growing threat to traditional higher education institutions. The trend was becoming clear; educational institutions that adapt to meet market demand will win financially and those that don’t will lose to those that do. The leadership at KU Edwards clearly understood this and wanted to take the opportunity to effectively connect with and engage employers in the Kansas City region. They had a growing sense of urgency to make KU Edwards more accessible and responsive to workforce needs in a timely and effective manner. Initiatives, Inc. was asked to create a process designed to build a clear understanding of regional employer needs that serves as a roadmap for a more effective operational model and deliver curriculum much more responsive to today’s workplace. The goal was to make the Edwards campus the “front porch” for The University of Kansas for Kansas City employers seeking qualified talent.
First, clearly understand the business community’s needs
Initiatives, Inc. interviewed 43 professionals representing 34 organizations located in the Kansas City region. Key market gaps were quickly discovered:
•Companies are finding alternative ways to fill the tech talent gap that are not connected to the strengths of the university system. Preference is growing towards more certification and competency-based curriculum and less towards a degree. Technology professions place much more value and emphasis on targeted competency-based skills than credit programs. KU Edwards can complement the inevitable arrival of private technology training companies setting up shop to Kansas City by partnering with them on campus
•Companies have brilliant technical personnel that don’t know how to manage a project, people or market. This presents an excellent opportunity for KU Edwards to provide, communication, project management, and soft skills as part of their development
• Larger companies are creating their own in-house training programs to address needs unmet by the university system
• Professional development programs are more valued if taught with a working professional. There is a need and desire to further integrate private sector expertise on campus
• KU Edwards is nimble compared to other universities and has the potential to be the “skunkworks” that can develop a model that sets a private sector pace and change how services aredelivered in higher education
Second, present the study results to the interviewees immediately
• Not presenting the results will be counterproductive
• Following-up will set KU Edwards apart from their competition – others have done similar interviews, but many have not presented the results or bothered to follow-up
• It will spark meaningful and actionable dialogue and determine actionable next steps with each employer
Third, integrate even further into the business community
• Competency-based education is coming, and it will require real-time input from employers
• KU Edwards has a strategic advantage with its high concentration of faculty who possess real world experience
• Revisit ways internships are provided with area companies. Develop stronger employer relationships and enable employers and students to determine who fits best within a certain company culture
Fourth, position KU Edwards as a distinct Kansas City resource in separate from Lawrence
• Find out from regional tech leaders how KU Edwards can reposition its campus to make it a “go-to place” for technology professionals who live in Kansas City while feeding back into their networks
• Integrate with Kansas City tech oriented and entrepreneurial startup organizations. Find out directly from them how resources can be shared that mutually benefit both them and KU Edwards
During the project, it became clear to KU Edwards that the KC metro had a gap in tech talent. They begin looking for a coding boot camp partner and were able to launch their first full-stack web development coding boot camp in June 2017, partnering with Trilogy Education Services. Since that time, KU Edwards has launched two other boot camps: Data Analytics and Cybersecurity. The standard format is 24-week, part-time, two evenings a week and Saturdays on the Edwards Campus. However, other formats are available including employer-specific custom training. To date, KU Edwards has graduated more than 400 individuals. KU Edwards also heard employers express the need for leadership and management skills. They hired Dr. Lee Stuart who teaches in a variety of roles while providing research-based classes and seminars. Professional & Continuing Education is currently offering a non-credit Leadership Certificate which has been well received throughout the Kansas City area. Dr. Stuart has also delivered customized in-house leadership and management programs to organizations including Sprint, GBA, WaterOne, Children’s Hospital Association, Orizon, and others.