Initiative provides workforce certificate programs in various high-demand fields.
Published on: 10-25-2023
The pandemic has been blamed for a lot of things, most of them rightfully so — and this includes America’s critical workforce shortage.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, labor force participation rates are at generational lows. Baby boomers (individuals born 1946-1964) are leaving the workforce at much higher rates (three million per year, compared to two million per year pre-pandemic), and the population is growing at its slowest rate ever.
“Many people quit their jobs during the pandemic, and the deficit is particularly obvious in entry-level positions,” said Stacy Sweeney, senior vice president of academic operations at Core Education, an educational consulting firm, and executive lead for the professional workforce development certificate initiative for Adventist higher education in the North American Division of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
As an example, Sweeney recalls a time when she had to take her mother to the emergency room of a major hospital system. Once she was admitted — after waiting for hours before being seen — a full day could go by without her mom being attended to as there were only two patient care technicians for six floors of the hospital.
“It is a very real problem,” she said.
And it’s a solvable problem. Which is why Core Education has partnered with seven Adventist institutions of higher education,1 including Andrews University, to provide workforce development certificate programs in various high-demand fields.
Since the pandemic, Americans have expressed a consistent preference for non-degree and skills training options. The certificates offered through this new partnership speak to this trend, as they are non-degree and non-credit.
“These short-term certificates teach skills necessary to be successful in entry-level positions,” Sweeney explained. Programs range in length from 6 to 33 weeks. “It’s the perfect opportunity for people to upscale their careers, and for employers to upskill their employee base — especially if the pandemic forced employers to promote workers who weren’t quite ready.”
AdventHealth, for example, has put more than 300 of their employees through certificate programs so far, with hundreds more enrolled.
Health-care certificates are by far the most popular of those offered, though there are dozens available in several areas, many of them through Andrews. These include project management, cyber security, EKG technician certification, health unit coordinator certification, software development, data science, and health-care administration, among others.
“According to our research, the Lake Union region is in need of entry-level workers particularly in jobs such as medical assistants, behavior technicians, phlebotomists, and patient care technicians,” Sweeney said. All these certificates are available through Andrews University.
The beauty of this program, though, is that students don’t have to be anywhere near Andrews (or any of the other participating schools) to participate. Students are self-directed and can learn online on their own schedule, and if outside connections — such as clinical placements — are needed, Core Education helps students find what they need in their own home area.
With fewer high school graduates wanting to leave home for college, and many uninterested in seeking a four-year degree, workforce development certificates may also benefit younger students.
“At the recent NAD Educators’ Convention in Phoenix, we met a number of principals, parents, and teachers who expressed interest in the certificates for high schoolers who aren’t yet interested in pursuing a college degree,” said Chris Fitch, program manager at Core, who has been working closely with the NAD. “Some have even been discussing embedding these certificates in their curriculum.”
To sit for the certifying exam, students must have a high school diploma, but seniors can complete the program during the school year and take the final exam after graduation.
“Many will have jobs waiting when they leave high school,” Fitch said. “And if they choose to go on to college, they may well be in a better position than their college peers in regard to stable employment.”
These trends not only affect the workforce; they also deeply affect higher education across North America — an industry which has for the past many years seen enrollment drop and costs skyrocket.
“Campuses are seeking to broaden their revenue streams in order to keep tuition costs manageable for students,” Andrea Luxton, associate director for higher education for the NAD, explained. “Core provides one avenue for this.”
To start this program, the seven participating Adventist institutions pooled their resources. As students enroll in the program, a small portion of the revenue goes to the NAD for development of collaborative projects, and the remainder is distributed among the seven institutions.
From the time a student enrolls, they have a success team to support them. Enrollment counselors help with onboarding; student success advisors monitor progress; and facilitators or subject matter experts answer questions about specific assignments or projects or assist in finding clinical placements. Their support team monitors their experience closely to ensure each student is successful.
“While it’s true that students could simply enroll at the certificate-issuing organizations for these programs, the difference with pursuing a certificate at Andrews or any of the participating Adventist institutions is that they’ll have an added layer of advisors and other student support through Core every step of the way,” Sweeney explained.
Additionally, holding a certificate from a university is noteworthy. “Though they are significant in their own right, when offered through a university, there is instant value added,” Luxton said.
Forging the necessary partnerships with certificate providers and creating the service structure to manage them is challenging for small institutions such as Adventist colleges and universities. By partnering with Core Education, the program becomes possible for all NAD campuses.
Alayne Thorpe, dean for the College of Education and International Services at Andrews, points out that this new partnership expounds upon what the university has always done. “It’s part of a broader initiative to expand our distance education offerings to serve a wider audience.”
And it’s not just about improving one’s marketability in a particular field; it’s also about mission.
“Through this program, anyone can further their skills in professions which allow them to more fully serve their communities,” Luxton said. “This can open additional doors for different and greater service.”
Currently the seven participating schools are in discussion about ways they can offer students in the Core Education programs more directly mission-related courses.
Janine Lim, associate dean for online higher education at Andrews University, sums it up well: “Enabling more people to engage in career-focused training is just one more tool in the belt of those following in Christ’s footsteps as witnesses to and in service of their local communities.”