Professional Certificate Programs Respond to Rapidly Evolving Job Market

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Universities don’t usually think of their students as customers—and with good reason. Just the classroom experience alone involves complex human interactions that, ideally, result in something more profound than the transactional exchange of information.

Jeffrey Warner, director of Professional Certificate Programs at Georgetown University’s School of Continuing Studies (SCS), believes strongly in this transformative view of education, and yet there are times in his work—which involves creating, revising, and sometimes overhauling curricula—when a customer-oriented viewpoint is just what is needed.

“We understand that the job market is changing rapidly, and the skills and competencies people need are changing with the market,” Warner said. “And so we’re always asking: ‘Are the learning objectives for a course or a program matching the skills and competencies needed for the job market?’”

For the students, 60 percent of whom already have master’s degrees, the decision to acquire additional high-level skills boils down whether the expenditure of two scarce resources—time and money—is worth it.

“It all goes back to a return on investment,” Warner said.

For that reason, Warner and his team are constantly evaluating and reevaluating the benefits of the professional certificate programs (there are currently 26, in addition to three credit-bearing graduate certificate programs) that SCS offers. They meet weekly and share feedback from students and instructors, as well as enrollment data, observations from admissions staff, and research on what employers are looking for at the moment.

An Ever-Changing Job Market

Today’s job market is changing rapidly, and it will become even more volatile in the future. Warner points to a 2016 study by the World Economic Forum called “The Future of Jobs,” which cites one estimate that “65 percent of children entering primary school today will ultimately end up working in completely new job types that don’t yet exist.”

That may be years away. In the meantime, the more immediate question for professional education is: How do we keep up with job requirements that are already being constantly transformed? For Warner and his team, that question always leads to two more: What should we be teaching? And, how can we teach it better?

Recently, for example, the team revised the popular Certificate in Social Media Management by changing the seven-course program to six courses and concentrating more heavily on not just understanding and analyzing social media but on producing it as well.

A Need for ‘Strategic Awareness’

In another shift, the onetime Strategy & Performance Management certificate has been relaunched as the Certificate in Strategic Management. The new certificate, which requires 35 rather than the former 90 credit hours, responds to the need for a broad section of workers—not simply supervisors—to think strategically.

“While not every job is geared toward strategic thinking, increasingly your role in an organization demands what I call ‘strategic awareness,’” said John Corso, president of Strategent Corporation and program director for the Strategic Management Certificate. “The trend now is toward more collaborative and inclusive approaches to management, where all ideas are accepted and even solicited to ensure that a diverse range of perspectives are considered.”

The program’s format has also changed. While classes were previously held over a series of Fridays and Saturdays, now, in response to student preferences, each course runs over five consecutive days.

‘A Huge Advantage’

The class focuses on three sequential ideas. First is the process of winnowing an organization’s activities and aims down to “a critical few” of strategic significance. Second is understanding how these elements fit together in a cause-and-effect way. Third is deciding how to change those elements to get what you want.

As with so much in strategic thinking, this step can be described in a series of questions: What are we going to need the overall system of productive activity to look like in the future? What are the risks? And, how are the goals we set for ourselves going to help us get the results we need?

The objective, said Corso, “is not simply to come away with a better understanding of what’s involved in changing strategy, but to also give students the tools to get that process started.”

“That’s a huge advantage to be able to walk away with.”

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