President’s Monthly Report
March 17, 2021
As parts of our economy begin to recover from the impact of COVID-19, I have been pondering about the impact on the workforce and on higher education, and what the work world will look like after the pandemic ends. Many others have also been curious about this, and a recent Washington Post article summarized trends nicely, though with stern warnings about the millions of jobs that will be permanently changed or gone altogether.
In a well-timed meeting later this month, the LBCC Board will discuss a number of related issues when we gather to chart the long-term vision for the college’s future. In advance of that planning session, an analysis of macro trends in the economy is useful background material for our entire college community. From the Washington Post article, as well as a number of other resources, I want to highlight two trends for us to watch:
Automation: the pandemic served as an accelerant for automation of many jobs, a trend
that had already begun. As a college, we’ll need to consider how to provide education
and training in jobs and sectors that are relatively automation-resistant. Problem-solving
skills, critical thinking, and the ability to adapt to changing circumstances are
all characteristics of employees who will successfully retool and find (and keep)
good post-pandemic jobs.
Remote work: even after the pandemic, LBCC will need to prepare students for remote work positions, since many jobs will remain remote for the foreseeable future. Computer skills, relationship skills, and critical thinking/reasoning will all be essential factors for success in this new remote workforce, as will time management and organization.
In response to these trends, the community college sector will be wise to consider short-term certificates and credentials, many of those offered through distance and remote education technology. Students will hope to maintain flexibility in courses and programs, while also benefiting from hands-on, in-person experiences when necessary. Federal financial aid requirements have been eased to assist students in enrolling for these shorter-term programs, and community colleges will need to be able to quickly develop and deliver them. LBCC is already preparing to move in that direction, both in terms of designing programs and offering student supports.
As LBCC engages in long-range planning, we will need to closely consider how to respond to employer demand and simultaneously meet these dynamic student needs. EMSI, in a recent report, states that students are looking for education options that “provide work-relevant skill training with a recognizable ROI for their career (a trend amplified by COVID).” For us, then, the challenge will be engaging these learners, including many returning adult students, by “clearly articulating the skill-content embedded in our academic programs.” In other words, previously most colleges, including LBCC, have chiefly focused on degrees, but the new world of work will push to also analyze and emphasize specific skills that are part of the courses and programs we are delivering. I do not see these as binary choices, but rather, part of a refinement of many of our academic approaches. As the college adapts to meet the demands of the post-pandemic needs of our employers and students, we will need to position our transfer and CTE programs to offer flexibility, relevance and rigor. It is a daunting task, but in my (admittedly biased) opinion, no other college in the Northwest is as well-positioned to succeed as LBCC.