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will persist in tracking far above the norm. About a year ago, the university introduced a new (not-so-secret) weapon intended to tighten up its efforts in filling the skills gap. It consists of two components: a tightly structured process for skills mapping (connecting course competencies directly to workforce needs) and a group of dedicated “skills architects” (those doing the mapping).
The Payoff for Skills Mapping
The idea came from WGU Provost and Chief Academic Officer Marni Baker Stein, according to Kacey Thorne, director of the team. “The goal really was to ensure that we had programs that were relevant to students in meeting those needs they have in the workforce,” she said, and especially to enable those students to talk about their competencies in a way “that employers understand,” even before they’ve earned their degrees.
For example, when somebody finishes a learning theories course in an education program, that doesn’t really tell much to an employer. But the skills mapping behind the scenes enables that student to say, “I can make instructional decisions and select the appropriate instructional strategies for a given audience.” Those are the kinds of details that could show up on a job listing. As Skills Architect Samantha
Coen suggested, skills “are that currency between higher ed and the workforce. It’s not the knowledge; it’s what students can do.”
Skills mapping also helps the individual colleges create assessments that accurately gauge mastery of a given skill. In turn, students can build their transcripts around skills instead of course names and legitimately use the right keywords on their résumés and cover letters that’ll help them get through automated HR screeners.
More broadly, the skills mapping will also pay off by helping the university create what it calls “workforce-relevant products” based on the career intelligence its skills architects gather. As new roles emerge in the areas where WGU delivers education, it can be on the forefront of building new degree programs that fit market needs.
The Basics of a Skills Map
What’s a skills map? Thorne described it as a “large database of skills that are aligned to occupations and industry-specific job roles.” On the surface, some skills fit into every type of program delivered by WGU. Take the concept of “good communication,” the enduring skill every employer wants its new hires to possess. What that looks like varies in the context of different jobs — a nurse versus
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