Workforce development partnerships offer new audiences to institutions

Beyond corporations, universities are increasingly partnering with alternative ed providers

E-learning provider Skillsoft offers courses to millions of employees at 8,000 client companies, government offices, educational institutions, and global enterprises. Skillsoft’s online courses provide employees with learning opportunities that open new doors. But generally, they do not come with accredited certifications or degrees as Skillsoft is not a traditional institution of higher learning.

While the American Council on Education recommends nearly 100 Skillsoft courses for college transfer credit, Skillsoft has only partnered with accredited institutions a handful of times since its inception in 1998. This summer, it is launching its latest partnership, which will allow employees of client companies a chance to earn fully recognized credentials.  

The Professional Essentials Certificate will allow Skillsoft to carve out an even greater slice of the workforce development market. And it will do so with for-profit, online-only Patten University. Patten’s degree programs already cater to adult students and are competency-based, giving students the opportunity to use prior learning and workforce experience to fulfill Patten requirements.

Institutions utilize a number of strategies when building corporate-university partnerships, finding a greater reach for their brands and their education materials by working directly with corporate partners and fulfilling part or all of their workforce development needs. The Skillsoft-Patten partnership, however, creates a new way for Patten to expand its audience with very little effort. Skillsoft is doing all of the marketing for the Professional Essentials Certificate to its own clients, who are seeking workforce development for a variety of reasons. Workforce development fills skills gaps within a labor pool.

It also keeps employees engaged.

“Retention has always been an issue for a lot of our customers,” said Sean Masterman, Skillsoft’s vice president of strategic partnerships. “It is cheaper for them to develop internally than to go out and get somebody and bring them in.”

Beyond that, employers are responding to the demands of a new generation of millennial talent. Masterman called tuition assistance benefits a hook for millennials in the labor market.

SEE ALSO: How higher ed can embrace diversity in an evolving workforce ​

When Skillsoft was considering partnering with a university willing to repackage its courses and offer them for credit, company leaders didn’t make a value judgment between for-profit and nonprofit, public or private institutions. Masterman said Patten University provided a good business fit and philosophical alignment, especially given Patten’s competency-based structure.

A somewhat similar triumvirate of massive open online course provider Udacity, AT&T, and public research university Georgia Tech offers a master’s degree in computer science. Coursera’s online MOOC platform houses specializations in data science in partnership with Johns Hopkins University, in business foundations with the University of Pennsylvania, and in fundamentals of computing with Rice University, to name a few. Coursera Specializations are non-credit bearing but they, too, represent a way to further an institution’s brand with a wider pool of prospective students.

With the Skillsoft-Patten partnership, leaders from both entities met to discuss possible certificate programs earlier this year before deciding on Professional Essentials. Then Skillsoft packaged its courses and sent them to Patten for further development. Masterman said it was important to ensure a consistent experience across all Patten University courses, Skillsoft-based or not.

“What we didn’t want to do was make them feel they were going into a Skillsoft experience while they were studying at Patten U,” Masterman said. Patten University course developers added supplemental content, including flashcards, diagnostic exams, and final exams for each of the three courses that make up the certificate.

Now, just as Skillsoft representatives are beginning to market the new certificate to customers, Patten University leaders are exploring additional certificates that could bring their programs to more students. There’s really no time to waste. Higher education is a competitive space — and partnerships are a way to reach new frontiers.

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Filed Under: Higher Ed Online Learning For-Profit
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