“WORKFORCE DEVELOPMENT AND HIGHER EDUCATION: THE COMMON GROUND” Remarks at the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities of Pennsylvania (AICUP) Harrisburg, PA April 3, 2017
Opening Remarks of: Thomas P. Foley
President, Mount Aloysius College Good afternoon all. Please allow me to begin my part of this program by thanking our panel moderator, the President of Cedar Crest College, Dr. Carmen Twillie Ambar, and the President of the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities in PA (AICUP), Dr. Don Francis, and indeed his entire AICUP Executive Team who put this program together. I think we all understand why this is an important session for college Presidents and we are grateful for the 50 Presidents who have joined us here today. Thank you. We are especially grateful for the time and attention of my two colleagues on this panel. Gene Barr is now the President of the PA State Chamber of Business and Industry, where he represents more than 9,000 businesses spread across this Commonwealth. He brings 40 years of experience with the intersection of education and employment to the table, and is himself, as you just heard, a graduate not only of one of our AICUP member institutions, but more importantly a classmate and fellow commuter of my wife Michele. They have both certainly made the most of the liberal arts and values-based education that St. Joe’s gave to them. And thank you to Kathy Pape, another outstanding graduate of multiple Pennsylvania institutions of higher education (undergraduate, masters and law degrees!) and now head of one of our largest employers in the State and a national leader in the utilities field as the CEO of the Pennsylvania American Water Company. Like Gene, Kathy worked her way up from an entry level position, and understands well the importance of connecting higher education with workforce development. -----------------------------------------------------------------Let me see if I can do three things to close out the panel part of this discussion. First, let me try to state the challenge in our charge from a slightly different perspective, and that is from the perspective of 50 Presidents sitting here in front of us. Second, I would like to offer a few thoughts on the language that we deploy in this conversation. I think that some of the things that Gene and Kathy said absolutely resonate with us, but we might use different language to circumscribe those notions. I want to see if I can do a quick definitional exercise, so that we might all be on the same page in this discussion.
And finally, picking up again on instructive comments from both Gene and Kathy, I would like to suggest a couple of quick examples (in a generic way) of the approaches that are being taken at higher education that fuse workforce development with traditional higher education. I hope this framework will be useful to our further discussion. The Challenge First of all, what is this challenge that sits in front of us? What is the appropriate connection between workforce development and higher education? Are these two concepts in competition or can they be collaborative ideas? How should they connect, one to the other? Back when I was Secretary of Labor and Industry (in the last century!!), the average person was expected to have four to five jobs in their lifetime--as opposed to the generation before that, where the expectation (and the hope) was that the average working person would have one or two jobs in a lifetime. My father and his two brothers put in 120 years between the three of them on the same shop floor of a large electronics plant, and moved only when the company itself moved from an urban location to one of the first industrial parks in America. The presidency of Mount Aloysius College is my eighth job (and fourth career of sorts). My father and uncles were typical of their generation. I am absolutely typical of mine. Today’s millennials might have 15 jobs in a lifetime, and that may well be an understatement. (I see Gene shaking his head in agreement). At the end of the day higher education is not—and this is our challenge—I repeat NOT about preparing somebody for their first job. Our challenge truly (and I’m not the first person to say this), is about preparing them for that sixth, seventh or eighth job. Are we giving them those kinds of skills? I believe that the foundational liberal arts are a fundamental part of that challenge, and I think that we—all of us, our panelists and our presidents—can agree to that proposition. Naturalist and author E.O. Wilson said a long time ago (way ahead of his time), that “we are drowning in information while we’re starving for wisdom.” He realized early in his career (and I want to quote his lines exactly because I think he caught it so well) that the world would “be run by synthesizers, people able to put together the right information at the right time, think critically about it and make important choices wisely.” Wilson was and is right, and his dissection of our challenge is seminal—able to put together information drawn from diverse sources perhaps even diverse cultures, think critically about it and the make decisions, make choices, get the job done.
Even for those training in a field where they will spend most of their life—for example, the 40% of our Mount Aloysius graduates who are going to be nurses next year—they still need to be able to think critically so that they have the confidence to deal with those changes in hospital room software that are going to happen every six months in their workplace. But Wilson is right and that’s really the challenge from our end, that we have to produce graduates for that sixth, seventh and eighth job who are capable of synthesizing information from diverse sources, communicating that information with diverse cultures and being able in the end to make good decisions on the basis of that information and communication. So I hope that gives you a good sense of what are the challenges from the higher education side of this equation. But before we leave this attempt to define the challenge, let me put that challenge in context. The Context You all know that the world has changed more in the course of the first 20 years of our students’ lives than in the entire lifetime of most of your parents and grandparents.
Some would argue that the world has changed more in their first 20 years than in the 20 centuries before they were born. Civil wars are waged now in countries that didn’t exist a generation ago. Terrorism has replaced MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) as the greatest threat on the planet, and the most recent Winter Olympics showcased sports (like “snowboard cross” and “halfpipe ski”) and countries that didn’t exist a generation ago. Not as noticeable, but every bit as important, is how the world of work has changed, dramatically, in our lifetime. All the power that was in the computer on the Apollo rocket that took a man to the moon now sits in many of your back pockets in your iPhones. Actually your old 3- and 4G cell phones have way more
At the end of the day higher education is not—and this is our challenge—I repeat NOT about preparing somebody for their first job. Our challenge truly (and I’m not the first person to say this), is about preparing them for that sixth, seventh or eighth job. Are we giving them those kinds of skills?
brain power than those that powered Apollo.
Work has changed too. Economist and author Peter Drucker explained the change in work this way—history may decide that the seminal product of the 20th Century might just be the Model T Ford, which consisted of 60% energy and raw materials and 40% human input (sweat) and ideas; the seminal product of the 21st Century may well turn out to be the computer chip, which is 98% ideas and human input and only 2% energy and raw materials. The ability to use your hands to perform rote tasks, key requirements on the assembly lines used to build cars, has been supplanted by the ability to use your mind to think and adapt—these are the new, key workplace tools of the future—and that applies whether you plan to be a rocket scientist or a surgical technician, to work in a law firm or in a research lab, to make things with your hands or to build things with your brain. William Butler Yeats put it differently when he said at another time and in another country that “the world has changed, changed utterly.” It has,
for all of us in higher education—in mid-matriculation. We live in an age where life-long learning is no longer the exclusive province of erudite educators and professorial types. We live in a world where US Presidents as different as Ronald Reagan and Barrack Obama both believed that the world of
But E.O. Wilson is right and that’s really the challenge from our end, that we have to produce graduates for that sixth, seventh and eighth job who are capable of synthesizing information from diverse sources, communicating that information with diverse cultures and being able in the end to make good decisions on the basis of that information and communication.
work and the world of learning are “indispensable to each other.” And the excellence that we strive to exemplify at Mount Aloysius and at the 50 other
schools whose Presidents sit before us today—dedicated, substantive education—must now become their habit of a lifetime. The reality is that “higher” education is just the beginning, not the end of a student’s education.
and their view points with regard to our shared challenge—to which I would disagree. I do, however, want to say something about what we mean when we say “skills” and the term in vogue in much of the literature on this topic—the phrase “skills gap.”
In the world our students inherit, where change is constant—not the exception—work and learning, core values of our institutions, will be indispensable to each other. Learning how to learn, even as our graduates begin to earn an income (with which to stay in school or to build a family), will be the primary prerequisite for the new economic world into which they will graduate. So higher education is fast becoming a misnomer—it is just the beginning, in a real sense, of their lifelong educations. We ignore this truism at our peril.
When we say skills in both the higher education and employment context, we’re really talking about at least three kinds of skills—technical skills, soft skills and dispositional skills. Technical skills are usually specific to particular jobs but can cross over domains. Maybe only a few jobs require the skill to run robotics operations on a shop floor, but almost every job requires some knowledge of how to create and manipulate an Excel spreadsheet on a personal computer.
----------------------------------------Defining the Terms: Common Language Second, I promised to say a few words about the language in this debate. I don’t think there’s a single phrase that Gene or Kathy used as they described the business side of this equation—
Soft skills (and both Gene and Kathy talked about those) include the ability to think critically, the ability to communicate in writing and in person, the ability to work in a team, etc. I pulled out a 2016 study done by an organization called The National Association of Colleges and Employers and their survey ranked the top five skills that employers felt they needed colleges to teach students. And their top five are right on the
Leadership Torch Changes Hands: Gettysburg College President Janet Morgan Riggs, passed the torch of AICUP Board Chairmanship to Mount Aloysius College President Thomas P. Foley.
Work and learning, core values of our institutions, will be indispensable to each other. Learning how to learn …will be the primary prerequisite for the new economic world …So higher education is …just the beginning …of their lifelong educations … need people with the technical/soft/ dispositional skills that we have discussed. But you may also need people who have a very specific skill set around which very few institutions of higher education can construct an economic model to accomplish on their own. sweet spots discussed by both Gene and Kathy. They cited the ability to work as a team, communication skills in writing, problem solving skills, communication skills in speaking, and a strong work ethic—every one of those qualities was ranked high on the list by at least 70% of the employers surveyed. And those are all “skills”, so-called soft skills, that we in higher education are challenged to produce— challenged by our students, their parents, our trustees and by future employers.
William Butler Yeats put it differently when he said at another time and in another country that “the world has changed, changed utterly.” It has, for all of us in higher education—in mid-matriculation.
The last skill sets referred to in some of the literature are best classified as dispositional skills—many of the skills that Kathy was just discussing. Kathy talked about how you appear at work (facial and other adornments, hair and hair styles, attire, etc.), what time you appear at work, and all those kinds
of skills that reflect (or can used to interpret, rightly or wrongly) attitude, disposition, work-readiness and the like. I am not sure where these skills fit in the college prep or faculty handbooks, but we all understand why employers (for so many of whom premier customer service is a core value) would focus on these skills. There’s one other phrase or skill-set that I want us to focus on so that we are all familiar with it. That is the whole arena that the literature refers to as middle skills—very technical skills mostly (but not exclusively) aligned with manufacturing. The middle skills domain requires in many cases a fusion of different types of post-secondary training and higher education (e.g., an understanding of electrical systems, at least a rudimentary familiarity with robotics, some data analytics capacity, etc.). I think that the development of these so-called middle skills (is this an employer responsibility, a postsecondary education or technical school responsibility, or some combination) is actually a topic for a whole other day. For middle skills jobs, you will typically still
So in terms of definitions, I hope these ideas at least ground us in a common language when we talk about skills, whether we are private sector employers or private sector educators. Origin of the “Skill Sets” I want to offer one more thought on this discussion of skills—and that concerns where these skills come from—who are the entities that teach these soft skills, those technological skills, and certainly those dispositional skills. Where does all that knowledge and ability come from? We all know the phrase “success has a hundred fathers (or mothers) but failure is an orphan.” Well, that is probably the honest answer here, for many of these skills. The honest answer is that dispositional skills come from lots of sources, as do many of the soft skills. Gene talked about all the lessons he learned—dispositional and soft skills—by working so many jobs on his way through college. I think we can all relate to his experience. Certainly higher education is a significant source of these skills, especially (we like to think) for the promotion of the so-called soft skills like critical thinking and the ability
to communicate well, both orally and in writing. K-12 or what we call in Pennsylvania, basic education, is a part of that, a family is a major part of that skills education, and culture is certainly part of that. All of these entities, experiences, and relationships are sources of those skills. They teach us whether it is okay, as Kathy suggested, to turn up for your first day in a new job with two days of stubble on your chin—or not. So, we can all agree that there are multiple sources for these essential workplace skills—lots of “teachers” along the road of life. And it is a very hard sort of enterprise for those of us in higher education to get our hands around— to assess each student’s skills sets when they arrive on campus on day one. As Gene said, we’re essentially receiving some “clay” on day one of college, and then we’re being asked to mold that clay—clay that has already been molded or moved in directions by all those other entities/ influencers/teachers in that student’s life. I don’t have any profound conclusions about this part of our skills challenge. I just wanted to highlight the difficulty of assessing exactly where and at what point— in the skills learning curve—each student and potential employee is at when they come to us. Without knowing that precisely, it is that much harder for an educator or an employer to put together the absolutely correct approach to the development of those soft, dispositional and technical skills. And that is why so many of us focus so much on instruction that emphasizes critical thinking as the key lifelong learning skill—because we understand that knowing how to learn—and not just learning itself—is one of the key skills for any 21st Century career. ----------------------------------------------------------------Common Ground: Higher Ed & Workforce Development My last obligation in these opening remarks is to say a few words about higher education efforts that directly address these new “needs” in a workforce. These are the “needs” that E.O. Wilson was talking about, and the “needs” which Gene and Kathy discussed as well. Let me refer to these higher education efforts as fusion approaches. These are approaches that address this tension or dynamic between workforce development and the traditional role of higher education. I might say at this point that the “traditional role” of higher education has been to, among other purposes, help generate graduates like the two outstanding business leaders who are sitting here with us today. There are many people in this room who lead the way in this regard. Their institutions are combining right now--in their curricula—a liberal arts/critical thinking approach with some form of professional education. For
example, at Mount Aloysius, 63% of our students major in the health sciences. One of our goals is to ensure they are ready on day one for the work with which they will graduate inside hospitals and other clinical settings—as doctors and nurses, as surgical technicians or medical imaging professionals and in a host of other specialties. They are primed in their clinical fields, but like students at just about every college in front of us today, they have also written papers in English and Theology, sampled courses in Rhetoric and Government, have appeared in plays, NCAA games and other campus productions, and performed and led service activities in the community. And many of them write capstone papers as well. All of those fields of endeavor, taken together, help to produce graduates who can communicate effectively, work well in a team, engage in ethical decision making, and get the job done properly. At Mount Aloysius, as at a hundred other colleges and universities in Pennsylvania, we are still pumping the liberal arts and critical thinking curriculum into our students by engaging them in fields far beyond their major or profession. But many of these institutions are also expanding their offerings of what I called fusion approaches and what some refer to as “experiential learning.” Kathy talked a lot about internships, and trust me there is not a President in this room who doesn’t love internships and we will take as many as we can get for our students (especially if they are paid). But these days on our campuses, “experiential learning” goes far beyond a simple internship. These efforts include service learning programs (we did over 100 of these last year), collaborative research projects (with faculty or private sector firms), field-based projects (on campus or 3,000 miles away) and community-based projects (our students completed 461 of these last year with 313 different community partners). These are all primary tools with which to teach leadership and team building and that is one reason that 100% of Mount Aloysius students are required to engage in one or more of these learning modalities. What unites these efforts (and this is just a sampling of categories) is that they populate multiple community and campus settings where our students learn to work with people from diverse backgrounds—diverse socially, economically, and in many other ways—and develop technical, dispositional and soft skills at the same time. In short, institutions of higher education are increasingly placing their students in settings that mimic their future workplaces, in assignments that require them to build teams, in locales with people from backgrounds and cultures very different from their own, in projects that permit them to take the lead, and with accountability standards that help them form good work habits that will last a lifetime.
When we open up for discussion, I know that my colleagues will provide dozens of examples of these 21st Century learning configurations that promote the development of their critical thinking skills, that inculcate the idea of lifelong learning and that deliver skills relevant to workplaces of today and tomorrow.
Institutions of higher education are increasingly placing their students in settings that mimic their future workplaces, …that require them to build teams, … with people from backgrounds and cultures very different from their own, projects that permit them to take the lead…
One last quick example of the connection between higher education and workforce development can be found in the kinds of—for lack of a better term—what we often call learning communities on our campuses. Learning communities— there are very different models from campus to campus—but they generally combine disciplines, interests, cultures and students in a unique enterprise. I won’t pretend to classify them all here. But if you think of the interdisciplinary majors popular in my day, learning communities are the same idea—but on steroids. Many leaders out there are really working at this in their colleges in Pennsylvania, and their approaches respond directly to some of the ideas that Gene and Kathy put on the table here today. A lot of colleges are also promoting e-portfolios, where students assess their progress on significant kinds of skills, some related to their own professional interests—and they update their e-portfolio as they advance through their higher education. So they start to know much earlier which skills they need, and which need further development. The idea is that they come out of
college having a realistic sense of their own skills. Student could define those technical, soft and dispositional skills mentioned above and actually evaluate them in their e-portfolio. Finally, in terms of what I called fusion approaches, many, many institutions in this room require Capstone Projects—usually a culminating project/paper which really requires students to engage intellectually and comprehensively and in a way that often requires them to work with field professionals in order to finish the project.
Conclusion I don’t think the gap between what I did 20 or more years ago as Secretary of Labor and Industry and what I do now as President of Mount Aloysius College is at all as wide as any might imagine. If you asked me back then (in the billion dollars of job training programs for which we were responsible), what were we trying to teach people, I would answer in many cases the same kind of soft, technical and dispositional skills we defined earlier here today. The big difference goes back to where we started with E.O. Wilson—ensuring the capacity to synthesize so much information and make decisions about it. That is one tough assignment. I think that is an assignment that has fallen largely on higher education in this country. And I am so glad to have all of you fine colleagues working so hard at it.
Tom Foley is President of Mount Aloysius College. He is a graduate of Dartmouth College and Yale Law School. Like most Mount Aloysius students, Foley is the first generation in his family to have the opportunity for higher education. This year, Mount Aloysius was named a College of Distinction, a Catholic College of Distinction, a Best Value College and a Military Friendly college and was named (the fifth time in six years) to the White House Community Service Honor Roll for delivering nearly 16,000 hours of community service throughout the Laurel Highlands,
across the State and abroad. Mount Aloysius was also singled out by the White House as one of four higher education “engines of opportunity” in the nation for its work with first generation and low income students. Mount Aloysius College, founded by Sisters of Mercy from Dublin, Ireland over 160 years ago, encourages students “to synthesize faith with learning, to develop competence with compassion, to put talents and gifts at the service of others and to assume leadership in the world community.” Though the last Sister in service at the College retired in 2014, Mount Aloysius continues to serve a population that includes 59% first generation college students, 50% Pell grant recipients, 40+% associate degree candidates (largely in health care), and 30% mature students. In his seven years at Mount Aloysius, Foley has seen the College grow to its highest headcount, overseen six major construction projects (including the largest building project in the history of the college) and helped the College improve its S&P Financial Rating to a full “A.” He introduced the innovative “Mount Aloysius Compact,” which commits the college to producing students who are: “job-ready, communityready and technology-ready.” He also inaugurated the Mount
Aloysius Speaker Series, whose themes in successive years have been: “The Role of the University in Civil Discourse,” “Hospitality: Finding Home in a Changing World,” “Citizenship in the 21st Century: The Common Good,” “The Good Life” and “Voice.” Two college publications edited by Foley on the civil discourse and good life themes have been accepted into the permanent collection of the Library of Congress. Foley is the author of over 100 OpEd, monograph and journal pieces on subjects ranging from job training to higher education, public security to non-profit organizations and has testified before both federal and state legislatures on more than thirty occasions. He has chaired eight statewide Boards and Commissions, including the Governor’s Task Force on Workforce Development, PennSERVE, and the State Board of Vocational Rehabilitation. Foley currently serves as the Chair of the President’s Council of Mercy Colleges, as Vice-chair of the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities in PA (AICUP), and as a member of the NCAA President’s Council. He also serves on three regional economic development boards.
Mount Aloysius College — Since 1853 Founded in 1853 by Sisters of Mercy from Dublin, Ireland, Mount Aloysius College is an accredited, comprehensive, degree-granting institution offering Associate, Baccalaureate, and select Graduate Programs where women and men of diverse cultural, educational, and religious backgrounds optimize their aptitudes and acquire skills for meaningful careers. Mount Aloysius graduates are job ready, technology ready, and community ready.
Mount Aloysius has earned accolades as a Best Value College, a College of Distinction, a Catholic College of Distinction, and a Military Friendly Institution. The College’s Nursing Division is ranked sixth among Pennsylvania’s largest and most prestigious nursing programs. The College is accredited by Middle States Commission on Higher Education, the Conference for Mercy Higher Education, and by 12 separate profession-specific accreditation bodies.
Mount Aloysius College is located on a beautiful 193-acre campus in Cresson, nestled in the scenic Southern Allegheny Mountains of west-central Pennsylvania. Convenient and accessible from U.S. Route 22; the College’s setting is rural but within easy access from State College, Altoona, Johnstown and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
We cherish and revere the charism and example of the Sisters of Mercy, our founders and inspiration. We make concrete the Mercy Values — mercy in all relationships among students, faculty, staff, and administration, justice in all our endeavors, with hospitality and service to all at Mount Aloysius and in the larger community in which we live. In pursuit of these values, our faculty and staff personally engage, care for, and mentor each student. In practice as well as in word, we help all our students — including those facing significant challenges — to pursue their objectives.
We affirm and embrace the Catholic heritage of higher education, seeking knowledge, and communicating truth from its manifold sources, and welcome people of all faiths. (60% of the student body comes from other traditions.)
Liberal Arts Tradition We challenge and empower students in all programs to attain the goals of a liberal arts education — character development, critical thinking, communication skills, a passion for continual learning — and to become responsible, contributing citizens.
Mount Aloysius Tradition We honor and sustain the Mount Aloysius legacy of being an “engine of opportunity” for all students, helping them
surmount economic and educational hurdles that inhibit their aspirations for productive and fulfilling professions. To this end, we recognize that responsibility is shared across the Mount Aloysius community. Our faculty acknowledge and promote the truth that learning for career and for life takes place both in and outside classroom settings. Our staff give daily support to students, enhancing the process that brings them to their graduation day. We require service of our students so that they will recognize that educational attainment and self-giving are inseparable components of the good life. We rejoice in the assistance and loyalty of trustees, alumni, and the larger community who contribute in multiple ways to our mission, modeling the conviction that fulfillment ensues as a result of generous living.
Published on May 11, 2017
Remarks at the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities of Pennsylvania (AICUP) Harrisburg, PA - April 3, 2017