On today’s episode of the Illumination by Modern Campus podcast, host Amrit Ahluwalia was joined by Geoffrey Roche to discuss the gap between higher ed and industry, and how human-centered best practices can help drive student engagement and retention.
Voiceover: Welcome to Illumination by Modern Campus, the leading podcast focused on transformation and change in the higher education space. On today’s episode, we speak with Geoffrey Roche, who is Senior Vice President of National Health Care Practice & Workforce Partnerships at Core Education PBC. Geoff and podcast host Amrit Ahluwalia discuss the gap between higher ed and industry, and how human-centred best practices can help drive student engagement and retention.
Amrit Ahluwalia (00:02): Geoff, thank you so much for taking the time out and welcome to the Illumination Podcast. Great to be chatting with you.
Geoffrey Roche (00:07): Yeah, thank you for having me. Wonderful to be here and happy New Year.
Amrit Ahluwalia (00:10): And to you, you know, you are a prolific podcaster. You, you work with the ed Up experience team. I'm really, I'm really glad we managed to find some time here to welcome you into this show. You have an interesting career path. You know, if, if you look at Jeff's LinkedIn profile, and I would highly recommend you do look at Jeff's LinkedIn profile, because you post some really interesting pieces. You've sort of straddled that line between the healthcare space and the higher ed space, just not particularly uncommon. And I'm curious what your thoughts are on the similarities that you've seen between those two industries.
Geoffrey Roche (00:43): Yeah, you know, it's really interesting when you, when you've spent time in both because what you'll actually find is there are, to your point, there's a lot more commonality than people realize. One example is both industries lack really the desire to innovate across the board. You really don't see a tremendous desire to really, truly, authentically innovate. And part of that I think is, you know, it's, it the two of the, you know, two of the most highly regulated industries. And so, you know, we have to always remember that. Second, you have a lot of similarities from the faculty to the medical staff. When you think of how they're trained. There's a lot of similarities. Actually, the other point I would make is what I have found is that both need to have a stronger desire for more human-centered connection and interaction at the core of what higher education does. And at the core of healthcare, if we bring more human-centered components into every aspect of what we do, we wouldn't face the retention issues that we do you know, particularly in higher ed. And we wouldn't face the resignation issues and the challenges we face even in retention among patients, but also among staff in healthcare. So to me, there's actually more similarities than differences. Which is why for me it's actually been a blessing to be in both, because I can completely understand how to work with both of them.
Amrit Ahluwalia (02:05): You know, I want to dive into that a little bit cause I love the idea of sort of human-centered practice and human-centered focus. Could you define that concept a little bit? Like walk through what you mean? How it plays out, what it looks like?
Geoffrey Roche (02:17): Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I think if you, if you look at the core of the human-centered practice, both industries were actually created around, around the idea that in higher ed, we should be student focused all the time. And in healthcare, we should be patient focused at all times. Now, when you roll that out and kind of think about what that looks like, it's the fact that in every interaction, whether virtual or in person every communication however that communication is delivered everything that's done, every decision. In fact, you know, I don't know if, if you've had the privilege to read you know Dr. Paula Blanc's book, but Dr. Paula Blanc's book, which is called Broken, which I highly encourage people to read. Dr. LeBlanc actually tackles this issue head on. And one of the things that he encourages us to think about, which I, I highly recommend as well, is that in healthcare and higher ed, we should always be thinking about every decision in higher ed around, is this the right thing for our students and in healthcare, is this the right thing for our patients? What has happened, as you know, is both industries have become more commercialized. And when we become more commercialized, we sort of lose the human elements. And while I understand external forces, economic pressures have caused that, if we go back to the basics of all those human-centered components, we will increase retention, we will increase enrollment, we will actually see a better experience for our patients. And so for me, it's that meaningful, intentional engagement.
Amrit Ahluwalia (03:45): That's interesting. So as you think about the, the concepts of retention, why does a modern healthcare environment, a modern higher ed environment, why does retention need to be a top of mind focus? Like why is that some, because it's, you know, let's be honest, not in both industries. There's this mentality that consumers are lucky to have us. You know whether it's a patient, whether it's a student. Both industries have really been built on this notion that folks are, are fortunate that we're here. And I think we're very quickly in both spaces recognizing that the reality that no, there's the service component to this that we need to take seriously.
Geoffrey Roche (04:27): It's shocking to me that that service component hasn't been there consistently all the time. The idea that we in both industries have, have had this thought that we should just, the, that every one of our consumers should be glad that they're here, that they should feel very special, is very elitist, frankly. Even in my healthcare days and in my higher ed days, I have always believed strongly that it is about service. And it is about impact. And in, in both industries, if we ever come to, to your point where we feel like we, well, they should really be appreciative of the value of education, they should be appreciative of the value of our healthcare system. I don't disagree, but, but at the core, we also have to be honest about the fact that both industries were actually created for privileged people. If you really get to the core of systemically and you study it, which I have done, they were created for white privileged men, both industries. And so when you are honest about that and you peel back that onion, you can understand that we actually have to redesign it, rebuild it at all times to ensure that it's actually equitable, and to ensure that it's actually meeting the needs of a very different student and a very different patient than ever before.
Amrit Ahluwalia (05:44): So we've obviously talked a lot about the similarities. You mentioned that you don't see a ton of difference between the higher ed and the healthcare space, but I am going to ask you just to give us an example or two of where you do see the gaps between the two industries.
Geoffrey Roche (05:57): Yeah. You know, if I look at from a gap perspective I think higher ed, as you know, has gone through a lot or excuse me, reverse that healthcare has gone through more merger and acquisitions over the last decade compared to higher education. Now, you know, we have certainly seen closures, but not to the level of closures of hospitals. Now, why is that? Part of it is the fact that the funding of healthcare has changed much more dramatically. You know, the, the move to value-based care the continued elements of the Affordable Care Act, which are actually very positive, caused some changes. And hospital systems that weren't innovative, weren't progressive weren't going back to the basics of human-centered suffered. I will also say that, you know, when you look at the United States from a healthcare perspective, most of the country is rural.
(06:53): Most people don't always realize that, but most of the country is rural. What's interesting is that higher ed has a lot of rural colleges and universities that also face a lot of those challenges too, from a funding perspective. But healthcare, because it touches every patient, you hear more about it. And so, what I have always said is that I believe very strongly that unfortunately, higher ed is on the brink of what healthcare has faced we will see in this next decade, if not sooner, more mergers, more acquisitions than ever before. Now, whether those mergers and acquisitions come from higher ed to higher ed, I'm not so sure. I actually believe they're going to come from healthcare, acquiring interesting oncology university. Interesting. or private business which we've continued to see as well.
Amrit Ahluwalia (07:44): So one of the, one of the topics that, that you write and speak on, on regularly is, is sort of the work learn ecosystem, creating those streamlined and seamless pathways between and, and across the education and employment. So I'm curious, at a very high level, what some of the most common skills gaps that employers in the healthcare industry tend to see from candidates coming into the space?
Geoffrey Roche (08:10): Yeah. You know, one of the things that I will say that we always see in healthcare, and it's not uncommon in other industries, is really that strong adoption, acceptance and embrace of the human. Sometimes called the power, sometimes called essential skills, whatever. Yeah. You know, you want to call them, the last thing I will ever call them is soft skills. And I would encourage people to get away from calling them soft, because that, that has a connotation that's not appropriate. When we really think about what those skills mean, so we're talking about empathy, we're talking about effective communication. We're talking about the ability to work as a team. So many people still just don't have those components. And I think, you know, the other element around work-based learning that I speak a lot about and encourage people to really hone in on is, you know, as you know, in all industries, we are facing, and this is global.
(09:02): We are facing not only a skills gap in many cases, but we're also facing this dichotomy where we are not embracing all the different generations in the workforce. And so, you know, when you look at the workforce, it's more diverse. There's more multi-generations than ever before. We've got to hone in, we've got to celebrate that. And when I speak with the younger generations, I always say to them, own it. Own your generation. Don't let other people define you. Because as a millennial, people want to define who I am. That's the last thing I let them do.
Amrit Ahluwalia (09:32): Absolutely. Why have we indexed so hard on technical skills and technical competency? If you think about the post-secondary value proposition for the better part of three or four decades, it was the development of these power skills and like professional skills, critical skills that people need to succeed in the workforce. And then the technical skill development happened over time. And we seem to have flipped that script where we're really indexed on technical capabilities, but then you have this gap when folks come into the workforce.
Geoffrey Roche (10:11): Yeah. You know, I think in many ways it's that element where again, higher ed needs to do a better job of listening to the needs of business and industry. And at the same time, business and industry needs to do a better job of collaborating to influence the educational process. So both industries, from my perspective, have not been intentional to help one another in a manner that comes back to helping not just the students, but their future employee. And so, you know, that's what I have found through all this work is that we just haven't been intentional on both ends of this, of this sword that at the end of the day to your point, you know, one day it's technical, the next day it's essential or whatever, leadership skills, well, at the core, they're both important. But if you can't operate as a human being in the workplace, you're already going to be at a disadvantage.
(11:05): And I'm a firm believer that there's a character element of that, that, that, that's familial. I mean, family has an important part, education has an important part. But the other point I'll make there is I think in the workforce side of this, we have also had this belief that if they don't come prepared in that way, well, we're not going to help them. That's where employers make a mistake. They also have a responsibility to do personal development, do professional development, do leadership development. And so that's how I would argue from that vantage point.
Amrit Ahluwalia (11:37): Absolutely. Now, obviously, post-secondary institutions have a role to play in sort of supporting this effort to address these skills gaps. Where, where do you see colleges and universities playing a bigger role in, in that effort?
Geoffrey Roche (11:51): Yeah, I think, think, you know, look, I mean, at the core college university is a learning lab. And so I think you know, my guidance and, and all the work that I do with college presidents and university presidents is, is you have to really think hard about where do you sit today from an asset determination, from a business industry connection. If that is not a major focus. And, and let me, let me kind of dictate what I mean by that. If you, if you say you're going to business industry for advancement, that is not what we're talking about here. Yes, advancement is important, but intentional engagement around skills, gaps, intentional partnerships, public, private or public, public or private, private partnerships, whatever those look like. They have to be very focused on the future of work, the future of education. And I think higher ed is the best place for that to occur because you have some of the best, smartest most determined faculty in the world here in the United States and globally.
(12:53): And they have a desire to be helpful. They want to be relevant. In many ways, that's why they got into this in the first place to impact others. So we have to think of that. And, you know, from my vantage point, I think organizations that, you know, even in healthcare, if you look at H C A, for example, when they acquired Galen College, you know, there's a reason they do that. And when you look at the impact that it can have, and you see others you know, for example, Trinity has Mercy College of Health Sciences, and you see others that have those type of C circumstances, there's a benefit of a pretty significant way when an employer and I'm, I'm not suggesting every employer has to own a college, but what I am suggesting is that there has to be an intentional relationship. It can't just be we go once in a blue moon and ask them for their guidance. It has to be very intentional, very deliberate, and very strategic.
Amrit Ahluwalia (13:43): Absolutely. I, I'm curious, what do you think is at the heart of the communications gap between higher ed and industry? Like we, this is a, a disconnect we hear about daily. Let's be honest. I mean, if, if you look at any industry media, if you look at the, the conversations that are being had at conferences, it's all around that disconnect. Why, why does it exist?
Geoffrey Roche (14:05): Yeah. I think in, in some ways it's back in that systemic level. We're, you know, both industries we're, you know, in many ways set up with the fact that you know, yes, we need them but we need them only when we need them. And I think that that has kind of perpetuated. Now here's the reality. If you're a healthcare leader today and you're a chief learning officer, you have to have those partnerships with higher education. Because traditionally, your team is so small that you can't truly enact authentic, impactful learning and development without those relationships. And remember, CLOs are very new in healthcare as well. So in many ways, I would argue healthcare has been very, very passive in this space. You know, I can tell you in my early start of my career, we were very aggressive. But we had a C E O who also had worked in academia.
(15:02): And so I think when you have people who understand both, they know that if you don't develop pathways, if you're not intentional around clinical pathways or nonclinical, because you know what, we need people in the, in every place of healthcare, look at the data. The reality of it is we just haven't done it. And the other point I would make is that healthcare has been too comfortable for so long. And I would often say I think a lot of other industries have as well, that's going to change because we see the new leaders that are coming in, they are very different than the more traditional leaders. And we got to get out of this comfortability. We've got to innovate, we've got to transform. And we've got to be willing to, to kind of challenge the status quo.
Amrit Ahluwalia (15:44): Absolutely. So you, we talked a little bit about I guess this focus shift among post-secondary institutions from being oriented towards professional skill, skill development to technical skill development. And you know, now the demand from employers is, wait, no, we don't, we, yes, we need technically proficient people, but we need them to be successful in the workplace. What role should employers be playing in supporting upskilling and reskilling of their workforce? Cause I think this is, again, when, when you talk to higher ed leaders about their biggest gripes with <laugh>, with employers, it's that exact gap that, you know, they're expecting these fully formed, fully ready, you know, start on day one, individuals ready to go. And, and the, the fact of the matter is that it, it becomes very difficult to do.
Geoffrey Roche (16:29): Yeah. You know I was reading something earlier, which, which, you know, when you really think about this it represents where both industries have a lot of work to do mm-hmm. <Affirmative>. And it deals with, you know, the idea that so many students want to go, but if they have children with childcare, all those challenges, there's a big significant hurdle for them. You know, employers need to own this. When you, when you have recruitment challenges, you have retention challenges. The, at the core of that educational investment is one of the most important things that an employer can do for an employee. And I'm not talking about the 52 50 in fact, I'm sick and tired of hearing about the 52 50 because 52 50 from an employer reimbursement was designed a long time ago. 52 50 doesn't go far for anything. And so I think employers need to be very intentional and authentic about coming up with new ways to fund education.
(17:24): I've seen some of this. I mean, I, I'm working with some healthcare systems across the country that are using their foundations to be innovative around new pathways. That's the models that you have to think about. Now, I would argue that go further, find your money in your operating budgets, be intentional. But the other thing I would say is that besides the, the tuition reimbursement side of this, there's also the element that an employer has a responsibility to develop the team and develop the, the, the members of their organization. And so again, that's where there's an amazing opportunity. Instead of bringing in these high ex, you know, high expensive consultants to talk about leadership development, go to the faculty at your local university because they got the expertise they can share with you and you can create a, you know, a great relationship that can in the end benefit them.
(18:09): And guess what? Students have a good, or your employees have a good experience, they're probably going to want to do a college experience there. Maybe they'll get their master's. We'll help fund that. The other element that I would say, and I talk about this all the time too, is we, you know, we can't sit here as an employer and say we've got skills gaps but only fund college degrees. We still have a model. We're overwhelmingly, we only fund college degrees. Yes, we've got a fund certificates, we've got a fund certification programs, we've got to be willing to look at boot camps. You know, this is 2023, this is not 1990 and 1985 when we came up with these models. And it's way past time that we change them. And, and that's where I think employers need to step in, in healthcare. But all industries.
Amrit Ahluwalia (18:53): So, I mean, let's talk about that a little bit. What, what do employers need to do to make that that feasible? Is it a matter of changing the way we do tuition reimbursement? Is it changing the way that programming gets funded in the first place at the institutional level? Like what are a few models that you've seen that, that you think could be replicated in other places?
Geoffrey Roche (19:13): Yeah, I mean, I think, so career mobility is really important and we're seeing, you know, organizations like Guild really do an incredible job to think of, of the tuition reimbursement model very differently. So tuition reimbursement can't just be 52 50, it has to involve career mobility, career coaching, those types of things. And so I applaud and salute the Guild team because what they're doing is very revolutionary for what has been a very traditional system. Yes. Now, on the employer side though, I would argue that, that if you are a A C L O or you're a chief Human Resources officer you have to really look at this as the transformation opportunity for your organization. At the core, your people are your most important element. That's who you provide care and healthcare. It's the people who make everything function effectively. If you want to truly invest in them, it's employee reimbursement.
(20:08): And, and it's truly reimbursement, meaning, you know, don't just cover 52 50. Look at how you can help them achieve it. Cuz you know what? I'm someone that used my 52 50 and got my master's degree and I stretched it out five years because I didn't wanna pay a dime. Well, that's a lot of students, but, but some can't do that. And so we've gotta be willing to have an, a more equitable process to tuition reimbursement. The second thing is, as I mentioned, you gotta cover certificates. I've worked with healthcare systems. Phoenix Children's is one who has covered certificates for their employees. That's the model that we should be going to. It's so beneficial to the employees. The third I think is I, if I were a healthcare c e o, the first thing I would do is I would remove all of this out of human resources. Interesting. This question is so important that if I were an employer, I would remove this out of human resources. This is truly the function of a chief strategy officer. Mm-Hmm. <affirmative>. Because when you look at how you transform your workforce, it can't be done in the normal human resources way. It has to be done with a focus on transformation, innovation, and strategy, because that's how you really move the needle for the organization. And education is such a powerful way to do it.
Amrit Ahluwalia (21:27): Well, because I mean to what we're talking about here is how, how do you position the organization for growth? How do you position it for the future? And that is a totally comes down to a question of, of skills, opportunities, skills, gaps and, and organizational needs. How can higher ed institutions reposition themselves as workforce consultants, strategic consultants to organizational growth as opposed to the role they sit in right now, which tends to be very reactive and more along the lines of a service provider?
Geoffrey Roche (21:58): Yeah, well, there's some phenomenal models and phenomenal institutions that I think without question are doing this. I mean, you know, I'm an alum, Moravian University and you know, Moravian has been doing this for a very long time. And I will tell you in my work at Core, you know, we're working with 11 institutions that are very intentional around this. Just today, recently, for example, Sienna Heights University, you know, announced their work very intentional strategic work in the workforce development space. Which is to your exact point is thinking about this idea of how do you become that important arm of industry. Regis College has done this Greensboro College have done this among many others. Now to your exact point. It is a shift and sometimes that shift can, can appear uncomfortable to faculty. And you know, this is where I think you have to have board leadership and presidential leadership to help the faculty understand that you're actually going to create new pathways.
(22:56): You're going to create dual enrollment pathways. You're going to create college and high school pathways. You're going to create Briar for credit learning pathways, all of the things that become sustainable solutions for a higher ed. And the one point I'll, I'll, I'll conclude on this point on, is when you look at the money that is available from an industry perspective in corporate training, that's the biggest opportunity higher ed has. You have entrepreneurial faculty who oftentimes have their own small businesses because they don't make enough necessarily in their faculty role who do this work. Why not incentivize them and create a model where they can be the best that they can be and become the corporate training provider for all those employers in that region. That's where I would say the future has to go. There are millions to billions of dollars in corporate training sitting on the shelves as we speak. And higher ed is in the position to help.
Amrit Ahluwalia (23:49): Absolutely. So let's look to the future. You know, as, as you've obviously tracked the evolution transformation of the work learn ecosystem over, over the last 10 years. Where do you see it continuing to go over the next decade?
Geoffrey Roche (24:01): Yeah, I think I think without question we're going to see not just true embrace, but really an explosion of Pryor for credit learning and dual enrollment. Because I think when you look at institutions who truly embraced that and have done it, they have not only created new revenue streams, but they have actually created models that employers are paying attention to because employers are then able to see the new pathways that they can get their future workforce. The second thing is we're going to continue to see this this move to different ways of education. And you know, employers are going through this too. They used to always have in-person, you know, trainings. Well now it's more virtual and so we're going to continue to see that. And that means more augmented reality, which I think is great. All the types of things that future generations really want to learn. We're going to see more of that. Which I think is a real positive. The third I think we are going to have to see is really this, this, this idea that higher ed becomes the corporate training, leadership development arm of industry. And I think institutions that move now to do that will be in a stronger position, but institutions who are willing to innovate and be able to at least embrace it, I think are going to be in a much stronger position.
Amrit Ahluwalia (25:27): Well, Jeff, I mean that pretty much does it on my end. Now, before we close one question we do like to ask to everyone who, who joins us on the podcast is, you know, if someone finds themselves in in your hometown, which is under repairs for Pennsylvania where do they need to go for dinner?
Geoffrey Roche (25:40): I would encourage them to go to the Millworks, locally sourced all organic phenomenal gluten-free pizza, so you know, very much for, for everybody.
Amrit Ahluwalia (25:49): Fantastic. My dad's got celiac disease, so if he does find himself in Harrisburg, I've got somewhere to suggest.
Geoffrey Roche (25:54): Yeah. And if he comes, let me know. Cause I have Celiac too, so. Oh, there you go.
Amrit Ahluwalia (26:00): Hey Jeff, it's been a pleasure man. Thank you so much again for your time.
Geoffrey Roche (26:02): You're welcome. Thank you.
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