Education Takes a Lesson from Industry 

April 18, 2017

Education transitions from a push to a pull system

In the modern economy, educators must find new ways to ensure they are keeping pace with employer needs. Under a traditional system, the education industry pushes the product they believe the customer wants—in this case the employer. But under a more modern system, the employer pulls the product they need from the education providers. This option is ideal for creating customized and efficient solutions for business needs that cannot wait years on end for graduates. And that’s exactly what we at the Gateway Community and Technical College did with our Enhanced Operator (EO) program.

We knew that our community was facing a skills gap, and as a community college, we wanted to be responsive to our local employers that were in need of manufacturing talent that they simply could not find locally. We also knew that our current push system would not work for these employers, and that we had to move to a pull system to design a customized solution.

In order to make this work, Gateway prioritized agility, continuous improvement, and individualization under a customer-centric mindset. With this focus and a new vantage point about our role as educators, we moved from an inefficient push system to a pull system that provided our employer customers with high quality applicants faster and cheaper.

Traditional System vs. EO Model

 

Traditional

EO Model

Time

1 year 

12 Weeks 

Credit Hours

24 

14 

Cost

$5000 

$2300 

Additional Book Cost

YES 

NO 

Agility

Being agile is the ability to adjust to a fast-moving market. Traditionally, however, education has been slow. When designing our competency-based EO program, we knew that our employers needed talent now, and that we would have to be agile to meet these needs. Thus we maintained an aggressive development schedule, with the curriculum creation starting in December 2015 and the pilot class kickoff launching in January 2016. This helped Gateway implement a lean program, demonstrating what we could do with teamwork, determination, and a common goal.

Customer Centric

Gateway began with a goal in mind. By bringing in employers on the front end to define the course’s competencies needed to meet industry requirements, Gateway targeted its coursework to give students the right level of information in the most efficient timeframe.

Using a philosophy of “learn it, see it, and do it,” the competencies were taught and evaluated through a mix of both hands-on lab activities and self-paced online learning. This resulted in a flipped classroom format where students weren't lectured at school, but applied what they learned in real-time.

While our primary customer was the employers, we viewed students as our customers too and we wanted to incentivize participation and completion. By working with the employers to build these incentives, we were able to offer successful completers of the program an interview with involved employers and incumbent workers who completed were promised either a promotion or a spot in line for promotion.

Our customer-focused mindset also made us more sensitive to costs. The program cost includes building a robotic arm, making a toolbox, and one book for the Six Sigma Yellow belt. The rest of the content is open source. So, outside of the program’s tuition cost of $2,300, no other costs are pushed onto the students. By becoming customer-centric, Gateway was able to deliver a program that met our employer customers’ needs, at our student customers’ prices.

Individualization

Just like the employers who approached us seeking a customized solution, students also needed flexibility and instruction tailored to their level and needs. The program was built to provide flex labs, where students have several options to attend their needed lab throughout the week. This was especially convenient for students that have rotating work shifts. In addition, open labs allowed students to get extra support from instructors.

With an eye towards individualization, Gateway created an optimally flexible program that offered students the maximum number of pathways to success.   

Remediation is built into the program through a "Math Rejuvenation" section as well as tutoring supports. For advanced students, our competency-based model allowed them to demonstrate that they have mastered the concepts and move on. In fact, a completion certification can be earned in as little as four to five weeks. The program has diagnostic testing built in that permitted advanced students the option of taking the final without having to complete additional assignments. 

With an eye towards individualization, Gateway created an optimally flexible program that offered students the maximum number of pathways to success.       

Continuous Improvement

Continuous improvement has been essential to the success of the EO program. With the pilot cohort, participating companies sent their employees to fine-tune the product that they created. The employers were also actively engaged with the students including leading simulations, assisting with practice interviews, as well as providing manufacturing tours. Our team informed the cohort on the first day that the first priority is to learn, but the second is to leverage their expertise to help us tailor this program to suit their employer's needs.

By focusing on agility, keeping the employer and student customers at the heart of our program, providing individualization, and adopting a continuous improvement mindset, the Enhanced Operator program is flourishing. 

Constructive criticism from the students was mandatory on a continual basis. Feedback sessions were also held with the employees and employers to discuss the schedule, curriculum, content, format, and application of the program to industry. By recognizing this program as a work in progress, we continuously collected and implemented feedback on our training product to ensure it maintains relevancy to industry. 

Since January of 2016:

  • 97 students that have enrolled in the program,
  • More than 500 badges have been awarded, and
  • 43 students have earned the full 8 badges and have been awarded the full Enhanced Operator Certificate. 

By focusing on agility, keeping the employer and student customers at the heart of our program, providing individualization, and adopting a continuous improvement mindset, the Enhanced Operator program is flourishing. By adopting a supply chain, the Enhanced Operator Program is a transformation of traditional education into a model that is just-in-time, just enough, and just-for-you.

[Editor's note: Gateway Community & Technical College was a Talent Pipeline Management pilot site member.] 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Angela Praiswater is an instructor at Gateway Community & Technical College