Illumination by Modern Campus

Jo Ann Hall (Moraine Technical College) on Unraveling the Skills Gap between Higher Ed and the Workforce

April 18, 2024 Modern Campus
Jo Ann Hall (Moraine Technical College) on Unraveling the Skills Gap between Higher Ed and the Workforce
Illumination by Modern Campus
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Illumination by Modern Campus
Jo Ann Hall (Moraine Technical College) on Unraveling the Skills Gap between Higher Ed and the Workforce
Apr 18, 2024
Modern Campus

On today’s episode of the Illumination by Modern Campus podcast, podcast host Shauna Cox was joined by Jo Ann Hall to discuss the challenges of higher ed addressing the skills gap and what’s required to find the solution. 

*Correction: Jo Ann is Dean of Economic and Workforce Development at Moraine Technical College

Show Notes Transcript

On today’s episode of the Illumination by Modern Campus podcast, podcast host Shauna Cox was joined by Jo Ann Hall to discuss the challenges of higher ed addressing the skills gap and what’s required to find the solution. 

*Correction: Jo Ann is Dean of Economic and Workforce Development at Moraine Technical College

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 Jo Ann Hall, who is Dean of Moraine Park Technical College. Jo Ann and podcast host Shauna Cox discuss the challenges of higher ed addressing the skills gap and what’s required to find the solution. 

Shauna Cox (00:02):Jo ann Hall, welcome to the Illumination Podcast. It's great to be chatting with you today.

Jo Ann Hall (00:07):Great. Thank you for inviting me. I'm so excited.

Shauna Cox (00:09):Yeah, absolutely. So we're here to talk about the current skills gap between higher ed and the workforce and starting to move towards a culture or an era of transformation, I'm going to call it. So I first wanted to ask you, how have you seen the current skills gap between higher ed and the workforce evolve, especially within recent years?

Jo Ann Hall (00:32):Sure. Well, what I can tell you is that it kind of ebbs and flows. We go through cycles where everyone needs a credential and what employers are looking for to make determinations between who they hire and who they don't. Almost always starts with a credential, right? When there are a lot of people in the workforce, that's kind of the delineator. And then the anticipation is you're going to come with the skills that you need based on the credential you have. Now, when unemployment is really low and there's not a lot of people to be had, then credentials. Right now what we're starting to see is credentials might become even less important or very specialized. Credentials become more important, and what I can teach you on the job and how flexible and willing you are to learn and how adaptable you are to change becomes much more important than the skills and the tasks in which you're able to perform. So we see that shift and flow, and a lot of it tends to be based on what the unemployment rate looks like, what the labor pool looks like, and what employers are really willing to tolerate in new hires, and in all honesty, how desperate they are for help.

Shauna Cox (01:41):Yeah, absolutely. And you're mentioning this whole idea of the ebbs and flows, which can easily go into the next question around challenges. So what are some of those common challenges that institutions are facing when they're trying to address the skills gap?

Jo Ann Hall (01:57):I think what institutions of higher education are really struggling with is it changes, right? And our cycle and our flow tends to be 18 months to two years to put new credentials out, and the workforce just can't wait that long. So the biggest challenge that we see is the speed and the pace in which we need to move. And what we start to do is create these shorter term credentials, these micro-credentials, these steps into the challenge to try to see if we're hitting the mark, if we're providing the skills that need to be brought into the workforce, and then slowly moving them through our natural cycles into credentials, which might turn into a certificate or what some people call a micro-credential. It might turn into an associate degree, it might turn into a pathway. But I really do believe the biggest challenge that institutions of higher ed face, and I came from a manufacturing background before I came into education, so I've seen both sides of it.

(02:58):It is just quickly the pace of change is moving in the business world and trying to keep up with it and make sure that as educators we're on the leading edge and not on the trailing edge. And that's creating lots of challenges for us in terms of how fast technology is moving, how the needs of the employers are moving, whether business is growing or whether it's receding. All of these things are happening at a much faster pace than typically what education moves. So we have to be nimble and we have to be really looking at things from the outside versus looking at our traditional pathways of how we create programs. And that's really getting to be a challenge because we can't always move as fast as we would like to, or sometimes that trend sneaks up on us before we can get equipment in place or programs in place to support it.

Shauna Cox (03:55):Absolutely. And we're talking about the connection between higher ed and the workforce. So naturally that's going to lend to various stakeholders involved within an institution within the industry, and they're going to have to cross that bridge together. So what role does collaboration play, whether it's in the institution or between the two sides? What role does that level of collaboration play when it comes to trying to address these skills gaps?

Jo Ann Hall (04:23):Well, I would tell you that I think over the last, I know I've been in education 21 years, and I will tell you it is the most critical piece to our success, not only between the institution of higher ed and the business community, but also inside the different entities inside the institution of higher education as well in our college, making sure that we're collaborating inside the college is just as critical as making sure we're collaborating outside. So for example, I'm a firm believer that we shouldn't be doing, if you build it, they will come. That's the way we used to do education decades ago. That is not the case. And the reality is higher education is really getting a bad rap in the natural news cycle for providing things that don't have value. The reality is the more we collaborate with our business partners, we will build what they need.

(05:24):They're the experts in their technology and their business. We are the experts in adult learning theory and helping individuals get prepared for the workforce. And that's really why I think collaboration is so important because we have different niches that we serve to get to the solution. Neither of us can do it alone. So how do we do that together? Bring both of our sets of expertise to the table and create solutions that will drive our local economies and the national economy forward. That's what it's all about. We can no longer sit as educators on the sideline and just say, here's what we think you should have. But here's the challenge to that collaboration. What used to happen is we would each come with our own solution. A business would say, I need you to create me this program that looks exactly like this. And then as educators, we would go, well, we can do that, but it doesn't really solve your problem.

(06:20):We can see at the end of the day, it's not going to do what it is that you're looking to do. Or we would come at it as educators and go, Hey, here's exactly what we think will solve your problem. And the businesses would say, but that's not what we need. It's got too much or it doesn't have enough. And the beauty in this collaboration equation is letting each party do what they're good at and coming to the table with the problem, not with a ready-made solution. And from my experience, those are the best collaborations because the answer is always really somewhere in the middle of that discussion, and neither party really understands a hundred percent of what the other one is dealing with. So coming to the table to have that conversation is really where collaboration, where the rubber meets the road, and that's whether we're working with K 12 partners to make sure that students coming out of high school have the right skills and abilities to go right into the workforce, or whether they're coming to higher ed or depending whatever their path is, right? Or if it's adults coming back or need retraining and upskilling, you name it. I don't think either party can do it alone.

Shauna Cox (07:52):Want to circle back on that level of collaboration, and I think you kind of laid out that formula there that people can take away when it comes to bringing in the problem, not bringing in the solutions to get that level of collaboration that is really going to serve the needs of the learners and the industry, and quite honestly, even the institution. So with that level of collaboration, what impact does that have on the institution and the various stakeholders involved?

Jo Ann Hall (08:22):Well, I think what happens is we think we know the answer. And what I've found over time is when you bring the right players to the table with the problem at hand. So for example, a couple of collaborations we've worked on, we worked very closely with the Department of Corrections. We are a second chance PE provider, and that was not, so we've been serving the Department of Corrections for, I don't know, 50 years. But PAL is relatively new. Well, as the academic area, I have a lot of knowledge in the programmatic space that needs to get done. We have some experience working in institutions in Department of Corrections, but how did PE affect their institution? We weren't sure we were figuring it out as we were going along. My financial aid team needed to be included because Joanne doesn't know financial aid. Joanne knows academic programs and the workforce, our admissions team had to be included.

(09:28):So we have found that by having more collaborative, regular meetings with the Department of Corrections team, who is involved in this on a day-to-day basis with our academic team, with our recruitment team, with our admissions team, with our financial aid team, with our disability team, bringing all of those voices to the table. Because when we think we're putting a solution together, sometimes we're creating problems for somebody else that we just then have to go solve. Where if we would've just brought them to the table. And I think part of what we need to be doing in this role of collaboration is thinking from an inclusive standpoint. We used to not bring everybody to the table because too many voices would make it too difficult. So we were always struggling with how many people did we bring to the table? Will this person really add value?

(10:16):And when I start talking about collaborations, I've changed my tone and how I bring that collaboration together over the last five years, and maybe it's post covid because now everything's different. But really putting the problem out there and then saying, alright, who needs a voice at the table? Who has some input? Who wants to be part of what we create? What I find is people will self-select out if they go, Nope, I really don't have a lot to contribute on this. I trust what you guys are doing. You'll come up and then call me if you need me. It's not that I'm not interested, it's just how do I bring my voice to the table? And you don't need me as a primary voice, but I'll be a supporter for you. And people will self-select in and self-select out because nobody wants to go to another meeting. People have a hundred things on their plate and they don't want to go to another meeting they don't have to go to. But they also don't want to fix the problem that you create when you create a wake of trauma behind you and you made their job more difficult.

Shauna Cox (11:21):Absolutely. You're putting that opportunity ahead of them that if someone doesn't say, well, how come I wasn't involved? It was a, Hey, I wasn't involved, but I chose to step out. I think that definitely alleviates a lot of the barriers that you mentioned before of what used to happen when it came to collaboration.

Jo Ann Hall (11:37):And what I really am pushing with my team is what other external stakeholders, right? It's easy for us to think inside our college because we know each other, but really now tasking people to say, all right, if our job and our primary role is economic development, economic development happens outside our doors. So who in the external environment do we need to connect with? Who do we need to be asking? Do they want a voice at the table? Who else might be touching whatever it is that we're doing? And what I find too with businesses is most of them would like to work regionally or collaboratively in the region, because let's face it, employees today don't have the same loyalty that they used to. So they're bouncing from one employer to the next employer. And what we're trying to do is create solutions that are going to service 80% of what everybody needs, and then allow people to do their own individual customization after that.

(12:39):So more employers want to be at the table, they want to create regional solutions. They know they can't do it alone as well. So it's really a matter of even asking employers when you're working on a collaborative solution to a project, this might serve their needs, but who else do you think might benefit from it? And a lot of times we don't think about that. We're just like, we're trying to solve the problem that's sitting in front of us for employer A, and we have to sit back and go, wait a second, wait, employer B and C and D might have some input to this. They're touching that, whatever that is, whether it's for welding or machining or nursing or whatever it happens to be. So how do we get all of those voices at the table to create some buy-in to the solution? And maybe somebody can do something we can't.

(13:27):Maybe they know something we don't know. And I have found post covid people much more receptive to that than they were. We were starting to get there pre covid, and maybe the last 10 years we were starting to get there where people were more open, but they were still pretty protective of their businesses, so they didn't really want to share too much. And their training and development strategies were kind of that little golden nugget of competitive advantage. And now they're really seeing that the competitive advantages in the region success and in the state success, not just in their individual success,

Shauna Cox (14:04):If that makes sense. Absolutely. Yeah. And I think that the pandemic really accelerated the gaps that we were all finding in the industry and processes and things like that. And it kind of just forced everyone to face the reality, find that solution, and really, especially whether it's people working from home and just the distance from everyone, I think it gave more light onto the importance of that level of collaboration. So it's so nice to see everybody realizing, hey, it's not just all competition. We actually have to work together and we're all trying to go after the same goal. So that level of collaboration is really, really key. I know you mentioned that you have been in the higher ed space for about 20 years now. So clearly you have seen quite the evolution of the space and things like that. So I'm wondering if you could just pull out your crystal ball that you might magically have and share some of the trends that you kind of expect to see when it comes to higher education in that workforce development.

Jo Ann Hall (15:11):Alright, so the trends, what I have seen over the last, I would say over the last 10 years, it started to be all about just skills. As an institution of higher ed, that's all we were really about. Our job was to just train people so that they could go work at company A, B, and C. But what I've really started to see is really as a societal change as well. I mean, think back to many moons ago, we used to always say, leave your problems at the door. We just want you to be an employee when you get here. And so much of that has changed. So now what we're asking is for people to bring their whole self to work. We want all of their skills, abilities and who they are to come to work, which means that in the workforce development space, we're now starting to deal with lots of issues around, it's not just skills-based training.

(16:06):They have childcare issues, they have food sufficiency issues, they have work keeping skill issues, and it's those things that are becoming much more important. I think employers as a whole have realized that most people, if they're motivated, can learn almost any job. The skills and abilities. Some might take longer to learn certain tasks and things than others, but for the most part, we can train as educators, we can train almost anyone to do almost anything if they're interested in motivated. The reality is it's that whole self and all of those surrounding issues that are causing the workforce issues. And we all have to be all in on it. So at our college, we're partnering, we've always been involved with the workforce development boards and the unemployment groups and all of that, but it was a way to funnel students to our door. Right now, it's for a very different issue when we have a student, we have an individual whose sole job is to work with students who are in crisis, right?


For food sufficiency and food insufficiency and transportation and housing and childcare. How do we now get them connected to the agencies that they need to be part of who can provide them the assistance that we can't? But understanding that network, it's not about just business growth and retention. Now it's about how do we sustain the workforce through skills, abilities, upskilling, and that whole self and all of those other life sustaining issues. If we can't resolve that, it's Maslow's hierarchy. If we can't deal with issues, the rest of it becomes really unimportant If someone's leaving their small children at home, I always say to people, think about this. When you're dealing with someone, especially in an entry level position, based on the wages that they're getting in those entry level positions, oftentimes they're single parents. They typically don't have a high school diploma. They're dealing with all kinds of other socioeconomic issues.

(18:18):And the last thing we want is for them to be leaving a young child at home alone to come to work because they don't have daycare. How does that help anyone? That's just creating generational issues. So if we're going to really truly fix that issue, we need to be looking at it as a systemic all in about the individual, and how do we support them in more ways than just the education and skill component. And I think that's become a big source of focus for institutions of higher ed. And how do we partner with more agencies than we've ever partnered with before? Because we used to just give somebody a phone number and say, go call them. And now they need to have offices on our campus and they need to be coming into our classrooms because most people who have housing issues don't raise their hand and say, oh yeah, hey, I'm homeless today. Exactly. So how are we much more aware? How are our faculty who are sitting in those classrooms much more aware of the signals and the signs, and how do we get them connected? And that used to not be our role, and now we see it as a very strong role because someone can't succeed in an educational pathway if their base level needs aren't met.

Shauna Cox (19:32):Absolutely. I think that encompasses the whole entire student experience, which I think higher ed leaders are really taking notice on of the student experience isn't just the academic experience, it is the all encompassing on campus, off campus support service, wraparound service, all that you mentioned that really make it key for a student to persist in their educational journey. So I think that's a really, really important point to bring up there. Well, Joanne, that's everything we have on our end for you. But before you go, we want to get a recommendation from you from a restaurant. So if someone's going to, well, you can do broader Wisconsin if you want, but you can also do lac. But if anyone's going to be in town, where do they need to go?

Jo Ann Hall (20:20):Well, if they're coming to Fond du Lac, I will tell you the place they need to go is Backyard Grill. It is actually right across the street from our campus and it's family owned. If you go there during lunch, you'll find a lot of our campus people there. But it's also my Friday night place of choice. The food is great, the service is wonderful, and the prices are really reasonable.

Shauna Cox (20:43):Amazing. I love a good barbecue place. It's always a good time. Well, Joanne, thank you so much for joining me. It was great chatting with you.

Jo Ann Hall (20:50):Great. It was great to spend time with you. Thanks so much for the invite.