I am the product of a liberal arts education. On the surface, what I learned in school has very little relevance to my day to day right now, yet, when you dig deeper, the communication and critical thinking skills that education instilled in me helped in ways beyond measure. To be fair, though, I am not protecting an organization against a cybersecurity attack, writing the next AI algorithm, or planning security measures for my organization’s network. Those skills would likely have to come from different places.
In 2019’s Inside Higher Ed survey of chief academic officers at public and private colleges and universities, the percentage of provosts rating their institutions as very effective in preparing students for the world of work ranged from 41 to 45 percent, with community colleges giving themselves the highest marks. This is down significantly from 2014, when the number of those strongly agreeing hovered around 56 percent. Is academia beginning to realize what hiring managers already know? In fact, many of us are surprised that the number is even that high. At this point, companies are hiring for fit more than anything else, accepting the fact that most skills have to be taught on the job.
Having spent the past 21 years working for businesses that support educational institutions with products and services, I have a first-hand account of the challenges these institutions face as they try to adjust to meet the needs of the changing job market. Some of them are making great strides, adjusting their curriculum by infusing courses and degrees that are aligned with market needs. In fact, my children’s elementary school recently became the first in the nation to implement an AI curriculum. On the other end, however, the majority continue to run as they always have, complacent with the fact that after high school, kids will need to relearn things in college, and after college, young adults will need to learn things on the job.
This presents an opportunity. Having started recently as ISACA’s Chief Learning Officer, I am tasked to help determine which solutions and services we can provide to help address this skills gap in areas where it is most pronounced, such as cybersecurity, risk, privacy, artificial intelligence, and many other terms that are not even yet mainstream. As an association with leading certificates and certifications in a number of these areas, I am confident we can play a role to bridge schooling to work in a way that has not been done before. We have the ability to connect students and institutions to jobs and opportunities through our vast, global chapter and member network, in areas with the highest worker demand, unlike anyone else. We also can help these students as they embark on their careers, supporting them all the way to retirement, with professional learning opportunities that meet them right where they are.
To do this, we are embarking on a global project to study and document a learner’s journey – from middle school to retirement, in a number of key areas that fall within ISACA’s domain. This will help us determine ways that ISACA can support these pathways – from a CISA looking to expand his or her expertise to learn the intricacies of blockchain, to the high schooler who may bypass college altogether to earn a cybersecurity practitioner certification. It will also help inform how jobs may be changing – how does the work of an auditor change in an AI-driven world? What are the ethical implications of all these technological advances and what training and controls need to exist to keep it all in check? Further, it will help inform the types of products we develop. Because today’s students consume content differently in school than previous generations, how will this affect how they want to learn when on the job in the future? Do we need to create more bite-size learning content? Should we be assessing performance through real-life scenarios as opposed to simply knowledge of subject matter?
Stronger collaboration between the academic and corporate worlds is long overdue. Associations such as ISACA, which operates in one of the fastest-growing and most exciting domains, can facilitate and expedite this collaboration. We can also do good in the process. Underrepresented communities can be lifted with the right training. We can connect high-demand jobs with candidates all over the world, presenting them with opportunities they never even knew existed. We can provide skills-based training, coupled with core, general education, and aligned to specific company demands – no shiny objects, no technology frills. This is the future of learning.