June 20, 2024

Why universities need to lead employee upskilling

The labor shortage currently facing the U.S. isn’t about finding employees to do the work. There’s no shortage of workers; in fact, there are 9.5 million Americans who are unemployed but searching for work. Instead, with 9.2 million open jobs, the problem facing U.S. businesses is identifying workers with the right skills and qualifications.

Unfortunately, it may get worse before it gets better.

By 2030, 6 million skilled jobs could go unfilled due to a lack of qualified talent

The good news? To fill this widening gap, many enterprises like Amazon, Bank of America, PwC, and Verizon are investing in upskilling by offering learning and development programs designed to improve upon existing skills for open positions within a company.

The bad news? Most employers aren’t prepared to handle upskilling programs because their current learning and development structures aren’t on par with what’s necessary to fill talent gaps. Upskilling programs typically focus on softer skills, like leadership and management.  current skills needed, however, are focused on technology –– which requires specific training and experienced teaching that many companies struggle to administer on their own. As a result, the majority of organizations lack the internal education experts that are critical to providing the instruction that effectively upskills employees.

Universities can become upskilling leaders by working with agile companies –– those that understand what skills are in demand –– to offer certificate, micro-credential, and short-term education programs. Though the traditional model of higher education can struggle to facilitate the current skills needed by the worforce, partnering with corporations to provide upskilling opportunities can help close the skills gap while opening a new door to a fresh class of potential students.

Converting short-term students into lifelong learners

More than 42% of 18- to 24-year olds are enrolled in college or graduate schools, but only 11% of 25- to 34-year olds are enrolled in these institutions –– underscoring the need to provide upskilling opportunities to these early- to mid-career level workers.

Microsoft also found that 41% of employees plan to leave their current role within the next year, with nearly half (46%) planning to switch careers altogether. To avoid losing this talent, organizations can upskill these employees looking to change careers to fill critical internal skills gaps.

Universities also benefit from employees looking to change careers. By working side by side with corporations to develop certificate, micro-credential, and short-term education programs, institutions can help close the skills gap that plagues the labor market.

In the long run, building relationships with entry-level and mid-career employees through upskilling programs can lead to those workers pursuing lifelong learning opportunities, like degree programs, with the institution. Often, a degree can enable employees to build on the skills they learned in an upskilling program, establishing an advanced educational path that guides their professional development.

Restructuring existing programs

Becoming an effective upskilling partner for enterprises requires universities to adapt their current programs to meet the upskilling needs of today’s employees. When constructing these, universities could consider the following questions:

  1. Is it possible to repurpose existing courses or programs? When it comes to learning content for upskilling, there is no need to reinvent the wheel. In lieu of creating an offering from the ground up, repackage existing courses and resources to develop an upskilling program that is thoughtfully designed around the corporate partner’s needs.
  2. How can courses be offered in a flexible way? Students looking to enroll in upskilling programs are busy professionals. So, flexibility is key to ensuring they have an appropriate work-life balance with their education. By combining synchronous and asynchronous learning elements, students will be able to complete coursework on their own time –– but still have critical face-to-face interactions with faculty members that can make a university-built course stand out and add more value to the student experience than a self-paced Coursera program, for instance, that lacks faculty interaction. Vanderbilt University’s online Business Management Certificate program –– which offers virtual students the opportunity to engage in discussions with full-time, renowned faculty members in their coursework –– is an example of this flexibility in action.
  3. Do students have a successful, long-term learning path? Ensure that students can apply the credits they earn from your program to future higher education opportunities, like degree programs. This will allow students to maximize the impact of your upskilling program if they choose to pursue advanced learning at the degree level.


Universities and employers sit at a critical juncture of the widening skills gap: by 2022, 54% of all employees will require significant upskilling due to automation and AI, according to the World Economic Forum. Developing certificate, micro-credential, and short-term upskilling programs help universities reach an untapped network of scholars and can make education more accessible to a broader population of students.

Kyle Shea serves as Executive Vice President, Partnership Development, at All Campus, and is one of the founding members of the company. Kyle oversees the management of partnership development, research, and consulting with leading, traditional higher education institutions, and also manages the company’s corporate partnerships development with Fortune 1000 companies. Kyle can be reached at [email protected]

Cecil Banhan is Vice President, Partnership Development, at All Campus, where he leads the company’s upskilling efforts, nurturing partnerships and helping shape and grow All Campus’ offerings. With a decade of experience in managing the launch of technology and operations initiatives, Cecil works closely with universities to research and build non-credit certificates and short courses focused on reskilling the workforce. Cecil can be reached at [email protected].

Featured Image: Mikael Kristenson, Unsplash

Why universities need to lead employee upskilling