Professional Development
Economics / Jobs / Universities

How can professionals get prepared for the post-pandemic economy?

A Baltimore Innovation Week 2021 session with higher education leaders discussed what the shifts of the pandemic can teach about rethinking apprenticeships, reskilling and automation.

University of Baltimore. (Courtesy photo)
A year after a pandemic and economic shock brought lots of change, the shifts are continuing. But even as the recovery continues, there are lessons from the last year of how folks can prepare for a new phase.

It’s a time when it’s important to ask questions, just as much as it is to proffer solutions. Dr. Roger Ward, who is interim provost, executive VP and dean of the graduate school at the University of Maryland, Baltimore, offered several in the realm of the skills that help a professional navigate a workforce that is increasingly virtual.

“What does executive presence look like in the virtual environment?” he said. “What new soft skills, as higher education institutions, should we be preparing our students with before they leave us so they can thrive and succeed in the new working environment?”

Such questions set the tone for a panel discussion at a May 19 Baltimore Innovation Week 2021 event that featured a trio of Baltimore higher education leaders offering thoughts on the economy going forward. The discussion was moderated by Deb Tillett, president of city-backed incubator ETC (Emerging Technology Centers).

There can be room for new models of preparing people in the workforce for jobs, for one. Apprenticeships have long been seen as a way to get the skills necessary to perform a trade. But they are increasingly being applied to professional work, too, in areas like software development.

“I don’t see apprenticeships as opposing higher education,” said Dr. Murray Dalziel, dean of the University of Baltimore’s Merrick School of Business. “I see apprenticeships as a vehicle for developing skills. I think at some levels it can work with higher education.”

There can be room to change names to fit a setting, as well.

“I wonder if a change in language isn’t in order to destigmatize the concept of an apprenticeship to then talk about microcredentials that can be stacked into a degree,” Ward said. That way, “an institution like ours that is focused on educating the total student also still has the opportunity because these microcredentials become more stackable and accessible, as opposed to thinking about an apprenticeship where you are just being trained in a particular discipline that might eventually become obsolete because technology has evolved at some point in time.”

We need to be thinking about education programs beyond the degree and creating that flexibility for the learners to be able to enter at their own level.

Dr. Afra Ahmed Hersi, a professor of education at Loyola University Maryland who chairs the teacher education department, said the shifts taking place show the need for continuing education for professionals, as well.

“The idea that you would have one degree and be trained for a single profession is no longer the case,” she said. “We are seeing folks [who are] changing careers needing additional careers and needing the ability to be able to afford [that] ongoing continuing education in partnership with employers, in this case school districts and granting organizations. We need to be thinking about education programs beyond the degree and creating that flexibility for the learners to be able to enter at their own level.”

The shift to remote work can also have big implications here. For many, working from home was done as an emergency measure for safety. But companies are already making moves for permanent hybrid or in some cases fully remote work. This will have implications for the folks who work to provide services around an office, like the person who cleans at night.

“What does his job look like if people like me aren’t coming into the office?” Ward said. And if there’s not a job there, “What is the institutional obligation for helping him getting re-educated, retrained for something else?”

This is tied into solving structural racism, given that many of the people doing these jobs are people of color, especially in a majority-Black city like Baltimore.

At the same time, there are shifts tied to automation that will result from the accelerated digital adoption of the pandemic. It can sound scary to a jobholder that new technology will do human tasks, but in many cases there are professional firms that can’t fill open roles, from accounting to cybersecurity. In others, like healthcare, automation can make jobs more efficient. Dalziel said it’s a time embrace more innovation.

“I think this is the time to do this,” he said. “These are much better opportunities.”

There are also things we can learn from what’s happened over the last year. The innovative thinking that was necessary to stand up new offerings quickly from healthcare pros and educators show the importance of problem solving and critical thinking that can carry forward. These are skills alongside direct job functions.

“To be prepared for that tomorrow we don’t know, we need to have individuals that are quite nimble in their thinking,” Hersi said.

At the same time, there will be a need for empathy moving forward. This thinking must have room for many voices.

“The recovery may be unequal if we’re not thinking strategically about creating educated professionals and students as a ‘we’ solution as opposed to ‘I need to get successful,’ and creating more empathetic individuals, Hersi said.

Companies: University of Maryland, Baltimore / Loyola University Maryland / University of Baltimore

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