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Guild Education x 2U: Unlocking the Potential of America’s Workforce

Written by Molly Forman on Feb 23, 2021

Related content: Higher Education, Strategic Partnerships

CEOs have long stressed that their workforces need to be better prepared to meet current and future business challenges. In a 2020 McKinsey Global Survey, 87% of executives said they were experiencing skill gaps in the workforce or expected them within a few years. But less than half of the respondents had a clear sense of how to address the problem. At the same time, automation continues to press industries and workers to evolve, shift, and brace for the future—a trend that COVID-19 has only accelerated. To keep up with the changing tides of the economy, companies across the country must adapt, and one of the smartest investments they can make to ensure their future success is in the lifelong learning and skills development of their people.

Today, 2U and Guild Education announced a partnership with that critical need in mind. Together, we’re offering America’s leading companies access to a wide array of career-relevant short courses, boot camps, and degrees to provide transformative learning experiences for their employees and create new affordable pathways to education for working professionals at all levels. Read on to learn more about the importance and timeliness of this partnership from 2U’s Chief Strategy and Engagement Officer David Sutphen and Guild Education’s President of the Learning Marketplace Paul Freedman.

Guild Education and 2U have a similar mission and values: both aim to expand access to market-aligned, high-quality education for working professionals and believe that putting students first is paramount to success. How will this partnership build on these imperatives? Why is accessibility to high-quality education vital to unlocking the potential of America’s workforce?

Paul Freedman (PF): There are 88 million working adults in America in need of reskilling or upskilling in order to compete in the future of work, 64 million of whom do not have a postsecondary degree. Providing access to education and upskilling to these working adults in a way that allows them to avoid incurring short- or long-term debt is critical to their ability to succeed in the future of work, as well as the success of their employers.

David Sutphen (DS): One of the realities of today’s workforce landscape is that all adults, whether they’re currently unemployed, under-employed, working full or part-time will need to learn new skills and adapt if they want to stay relevant and keep pace with the changing economy. Our new partnership with Guild will offer millions of workers at Guild’s employer partners an opportunity to do just that by gaining access to a diverse portfolio of high-quality, career-relevant 2U-powered online degree and non-degree offerings. Providing workers with flexible skills and career-focused higher education offerings is a win for employers and a great way for companies to invest in developing their talent, improving retention, and transforming their workforce for the digital age.

At a moment of economic distress—and with a lot of uncertainty amid the global pandemic—why is it important for employers to double down on education and upskilling?

PF: One of the things the pandemic has done is accelerate automation and technology changes. Broadly speaking, that means that a deeper investment in upskilling and education aligns with what leading employers need. We think that educational opportunities for America’s workforce align well with the corporate strategy and talent development strategy of the forward-thinking companies we work with. So as part of that, we expect to see more workers and companies embrace shorter-term programs and stackable programs as a way to get workers the skills they need for in-demand jobs, faster. Our employer partners continue to make that investment.

DS: Faced with a challenging economy and the impacts of COVID many businesses are scaling back their hiring, but that only reinforces the importance of, and need to invest in, their existing workforce. A company that is trying to pivot to the digital economy while doing more with less will need its employees to grow and develop in order to help the company thrive.

According to PwC’s annual CEO survey, in 2019, 79% of CEOs worldwide were concerned about the lack of essential skills in their workforce; an increase of 16% compared to 2016. Business leaders are increasingly recognizing that offering education benefits provides a way to develop employees to meet new demands, recruit new talent, improve retention, and drive social impact. How will this partnership help companies deepen investments in their people and build for the future?

PF: Yeah, the data is there. This is something that America’s business leaders clearly worry about and think is critical to the future. We believe this partnership will help employers retain the right talent, which in turn will provide a positive business impact and support employees’ career pathways and overall economic mobility. Students enrolled in a Guild Education employer program are 2x more likely to have a promotion or role change than the average employee. Additionally, data from Guild students shows those enrolled in school through their employer were 2.7x more likely to retain at work than their peers.

According to August 2020 Strada Education data, there has been a steady increase in demand for short-term skills training programs during the COVID era. What do you attribute to this increase in demand? Do you anticipate this surge in interest will continue to grow post-pandemic?

PF: I think a lot of people don’t have the time to stop—they have obligations and responsibilities, and what they want are opportunities that help them advance but don’t slow them down. Working adults have expressed a preference for skills training and non-degree programs over traditional degree programs as education options since the beginning of the pandemic. One key reason is that they need flexibility, and they want efficacy. Affordable, short-form options that better position them to compete in an increasingly competitive market. These learners are generally looking to advance into another position with their current employer or change to an entirely different field of work with a new employer, thus the need for a specific new skill set. The pandemic accelerated this interest, and we expect to see this trend continue post-pandemic.

DS: Although it’s clear that growth of non-degree alternative credentials is here to stay, the broader story is really one of “and” not “or”—both degree and non-degree higher education offerings are important. With lifelong learning as the new normal, people at all stages of their lives and careers will need to find flexible, high-quality options to keep their skills up-to-date. And for many of these adult learners, alternative credentials will be the right choice. For others, particularly in fast-growing fields like healthcare that require licensure, online degrees will be critical so individuals can continue to work while pursuing their chosen profession.

COVID-19 has caused the largest unemployment crisis since the Great Depression. Now, more than ever, higher education is being called upon to help right this economic fallout by preparing individuals with the skills needed to meet the emergent demands of an ever-evolving world of work. How do you see this partnership playing a role in building the deeper connections between the university and the workplace necessary to amplify professionals’ career readiness?

PF: Guild works with some of the leading employers in the country, and what this partnership will do is meaningfully expand opportunities for their workforces and create some incredible, diverse educational options for students. When we think about COVID-19 and the economic recovery to come, we know that upskilling and education will play a huge role—and are an immediate need. Expanding the options to workers in terms of the way they can expand their skills creates a tighter connection between the university and the workplace. The other way to build deeper connections between the two entities is by making clear the link between upskilling and education and what businesses need to move forward.

DS: One of the most serious and important challenges facing society today is our ability to help tens of millions of Americans obtain the skills necessary to build a career path that will enable them to earn and sustain a career that pays a middle-class wage. What excites me about our partnership with Guild is that it will strengthen the alignment among business and higher education while providing employees with the kind of market-relevant degree and non-degree offerings they need to advance in their careers. Many of the workers at Guild’s employer partners, particularly those on the front lines, are women and people of color, and these individuals will now gain access to flexible and high-quality online education offerings without the need to take on additional debt, which is another important and exciting dimension of our partnership.

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