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The Graying of the Workforce.

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Category: Academic Insights

My wife and I recently attended Iris Fest in Milwaukee. It is reportedly the largest festival celebrating Irish music in the world with some 70 different music groups annually. As we sat, looked around, and listened to a mix of music groups, we could not mistake the predominant hair colors – gray or none (I am sort of in between these two). In the same time frame, I “retreated” with university administrators, as we discussed the future of the university. Again, the predominant color was gray. That is to be expected, as we try hard to steer younger academics toward research and publication. Yet it also makes clear that there are a good many older workers still earning their livings. We talk of and welcome the addition of millennials to the workforce, but baby boomers and their predecessors are still very much in evidence.

The workplace now contains four generations. The youngest, the millenials, will grow to be even larger than the baby boom generation. In the meantime, boomers still predominate. As others have written, the generations often have different values, different attitudes toward work, and different skills. The challenge is how to make the workplace productive and encouraging for all of us.

I know younger workers who are making extensive use of electronic media at work; some older workers view this as unproductive. That impression is often false, as these younger workers do contribute at least as much, but perhaps not at the same hours or pace as older workers. Older workers may be viewed as hidebound and slow to change. Younger workers struggle to understand why change is so hard for their seniors. Again, there are valid reasons from both points of view. Unfortunately, it is often hard to bring harmony to these disparate perspectives. That is what we must do, if we are truly to take advantage of the many strengths brought by different generations.

I am most interested in hearing your views as to what the best methods are to meld young and old in the workplace. The rewards are well worth the effort. Please let me (and others) know.

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Bolster Your Resume With A Certificate.

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Category: Academic Insights

Certificates for professional education are increasingly in demand. This message has appeared in the last several months in places like the Wall Street Journal and the Chronicle of Higher Education, to name but two. These certificates of completion of a series of classes on particular subjects, such as Project Management or Organizational Development or a host of other subjects, are useful because they focus attendees on particular subjects. These certificates are given for both credit and non-credit classes. The key is that individuals, and often their employers, want workers to have specific knowledge and skills. Certificates make the acquisition of such knowledge and skills more efficient.

Those of us in continuing education have been proponents of concentrated activity around specific areas of knowledge and skills. We know that degrees are very important, but we also think that degrees are not the solution to many workplace needs. In some cases, what is needed are several credit classes that are combined to thoroughly cover one topic. Someone in Washington, DC, for example, might benefit from a series of courses from different academic departments that prepare individuals for deployment to the Middle East. More common across the globe are individuals who must juggle many projects in many different lines of work. They benefit from a series of classes on project management. Such a topic can be covered in a sixteen-week academic class or a series of ten, one-day, non-credit classes.

I have a particular bias toward non-credit, in part because that is by far the majority of classes that we offer at the School of Continuing Education, but individual classes also let people work with bite-size nuggets of information that they can immediately apply and master at their places of work.  That mastery then leads to the next bite of knowledge, which further enlarges their skill set. An additional advantage of the multi-course, non-credit approach is that it is flexible in terms of when one covers particular topics. Such classes are not lockstep, week-by-week, a pattern that does not match many individuals’ work flows.

In an age of rapidly changing activities and assignments, certificates give employees and employers the ability to meet future needs quickly and efficiently. Yes, degrees are important, but certificates are a critical component of professional development.

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Career Entrepreneurship — How Employees Can Shape Their Own Development.

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Category: Academic Insights

From my perspective, I see more short-term work arrangements between employers and employees. Increasing pressure is being placed on both parties to better serve their own interests.  In the past, both employers and employees leaned on human resource departments to ensure that professional development occurred.  Workers might have some discretion, but many just accepted what came their way, assuming their best interests were also being served.

That nice, neat cooperative world is not as common today.  Employers are more conscious of having the right people with the right skills in every position.  Employers are making shorter term hiring commitments, so they have the flexibility they want to keep hiring for specific needs.  Companies can retain their own employees, if they have been identified initially and the employers make the experience and training investments necessary for these individuals to grow with the organization.

But many companies are not perceptive enough to identify and invest in workers who will best meet their new needs.  That forces employees to be markedly more proactive on their own behalf.  Individual employees must perceive what skills will be needed in their next jobs and determine how best to acquire those skills. They are the ones who have to push their current employers to invest in them, or allow employees the time to seek professional development opportunities that will put them in good position for their next job, either at their current employer or at another employer.

Both employers and employees must actively engage in predicting future opportunities and preparing for them. Talent development is the key.  Both sides of the equation need to develop more insight into what skills need further development and how each can ensure that opportunities for that development occur.  The big change is that individuals must take on greater responsibility for creating their futures in the workplace.

Do you think that workers are prepared for assuming this expanded responsibility and willing to make commitments to assure themselves a brighter future?  What else might need to be done in this new world of changing responsibility?

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