Page 25 - Campus Technology, March/April 2020
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looking for specific industry language, she added. “If we can get students to use the right keywords, they’re that much closer to getting their foot in the door for an interview.”
The Job of the Skills Architect
Just like the skills map is more than a one- dimensional list of competencies, the skills architect is more than an instructional designer. Coen said in her role as skills architect she spends more time “reading and speaking with industry experts” than she does working with subject- matter experts in higher education, as she did when employed as an instructional designer first at Saint Leo University (FL) and then at WGU.
Unlike the typical academic SME, those industry experts who work with WGU tend to be hiring managers at major organizations who “have the degrees and credentials and knowledge and skills and abilities,” but they also possess “that different view of what it’s like in the workplace outside of the school environment.”
A big part of the skills architect’s job is to take what he or she has culled about high-demand skills from industry data and industry experts to the curriculum design team and then “translate what industry is looking for into our educational programs.”
Killian emphasized that the skills architects don’t develop the curriculum or even steer it. “We’re not choosing what the experience looks like. We’re saying, ‘This is what the industry is telling us,’ so [members of the design team] can fine-tune what they’re doing to make sure it has the greatest impact.”
How Skills Mapping is Done
The skills architecture group is part of a centralized program development organization that intersects with a whole bunch of other units, including career services and the university registrar. The disaggregated faculty model “makes it a little bit easier for us to
centralize how we go about skills mapping with a central design team that is working on building that curriculum,” noted Thorne. In other words, the entire university works off of a single skills map — which is tricky.
Right now, a lot of the work is done manually. Just as there are multiple layers to every skill being tracked — industry, job role, occupation, region — there’s also the problem of keeping the language to describe those elements consistent across the entire database. A two-dimensional approach can’t keep up.
As a result, this new unit is struggling on two fronts, said Thorne: The first is keeping the skills map updated and doing it “as dynamically as possible.” The second is making sure the alignment work follows the same “cadence” as the program review cycles. “And that just depends on how frequently different programs need to go into that review.” As she explained, some content areas are “a bit more stable” than others — accounting, say, compared to cybersecurity, where the job is “literally changing by the minute.”
The group is working to build a product that can house all of the data the skills represent, including tagging for quick identification when revisions need to be made. “The tools to manage this sort of thing are emergent,” acknowledged Thorne.
Until then, WGU’s investment in process and people will continue moving along, crossing the skills gap at a pace that leaves other institutions behind. “Our curriculum already has the foundation rooted in workforce need and industry relevance,” said Thorne. “The skills architecture is just allowing for us to translate all of that into the language of skills so that we can help students market themselves better to employers and understand the skills that underlie that relevant curriculum they’re engaging in already.”
Dian Schaffhauser is content editor for Campus Technology.

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