11. Upskilling with Strategic Enterprise Education

February 10, 2021 Amy Baron Season 1 Episode 11
11. Upskilling with Strategic Enterprise Education
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11. Upskilling with Strategic Enterprise Education
Feb 10, 2021 Season 1 Episode 11
Amy Baron

GUEST: MICHELLE WESTFORT, CHIEF UNIVERSITY OFFICER, INSTRIDE. When corporate leaders map the skills they need on their teams and provide pathways for employees and potential employees to cultivate those skills, it's a win-win. Managers are more successful at delivering against their goals, and workers feel actively supported and motivated to educate themselves and learn new skills. Amy talks with Michelle Westfort about the business value and social impact of Instride's strategic enterprise education, and how creating customized education that addresses specific organizational needs can have a meaningful impact. 

Show Notes Transcript

GUEST: MICHELLE WESTFORT, CHIEF UNIVERSITY OFFICER, INSTRIDE. When corporate leaders map the skills they need on their teams and provide pathways for employees and potential employees to cultivate those skills, it's a win-win. Managers are more successful at delivering against their goals, and workers feel actively supported and motivated to educate themselves and learn new skills. Amy talks with Michelle Westfort about the business value and social impact of Instride's strategic enterprise education, and how creating customized education that addresses specific organizational needs can have a meaningful impact. 

Amy Baron  0:06  

Hey, everybody, I'm Amy Baron. And this is upskilled: solutions in the learning universe, where I talk with professionals in education and workforce development, about practices and perspectives that catalyze positive change.


Amy Baron  0:24  

So our guest today is Michelle Westfort the Chief University Officer of Instride, which is a global provider of strategic enterprise education programs. And Michelle is going to tell us all about that. In her role, Michelle oversees the academic partnerships team. And she also leads the development of Instride’s highly curated network of academic partners, Michelle holds an EdD in organizational leadership. And she is deeply committed to supporting and mentoring other female leaders, which I think is fantastic. Being a female leader myself, Michelle has had a long career in higher education. And she brings to it a unique perspective from her own personal journey, which hopefully she will tell us about. So welcome, Michelle, to Upskilled. 


Hi, Amy, thank you so much for having me. I'm excited to join you on this upskilled podcast. And we are so happy to have you. So I think it would be interesting to start off with a little background on instride. And, and what exactly is strategic enterprise education.


Michelle Westfort  1:37  

So instride, strategic enter enterprise education programs focus on developing the workforce of the future. And what that means is that we work with large corporations that want to invest in their employees, to help them further their skills, but also at the same time achieving their business objectives and their growth goals as a corporation. So


Michelle Westfort  2:08  

strategic enterprise education offers degrees, diplomas and courses, from high quality institutions, which is really critical for us to recognize that we need to attract enrollees and ultimately graduate learners, who would be best setup for career success and career progression. So finally, what strategic enterprise education means is that we take all of the work, and we make enrollment and learning as a process easier for both companies and employees. And how exactly do you work with higher ed institutions. So the way we work with higher education institutions is to identify the programs that they would like to provide in the b2b space for corporations. So my team and I really sit with institutions to say, what exactly do you want to achieve? How do you want to support working adults? And how do you want to be a part of that social mission? What are the important policies that are important to enable access? What are the future programs that you want to grow, for instance, that would be likely and important to connect Industry Skills, as well as complete degrees for individuals. So we support institutions from an insight perspective. But we've also created a network of top tier institutions where we can information share knowledge share at the highest level, one of the things that's important in our business is actually recognizing that coming together is a really important part of the work that we do no one single institution, and no one single corporation can do this alone. So by curating this network and bringing institutions together, like minded institutions, it's an important part of the work that we do. And and, you know, everybody out there in the workforce,


Amy Baron  4:20  

in the workforce, in general, and especially recent college graduates or young adult professionals, knows that that connection between higher ed and the workforce is is sometimes difficult to bridge that gap. And so it sounds like what you're doing is really a win win. you're providing an important service for employers and an important service for higher ed institutions as well as for students and graduates. 


Michelle Westfort

That's exactly right. Amy, and the way we think about it is for corporate partners, specifically, what instride does is facilitate design workshops that really bring together key industry leaders


Michelle Westfort  5:00  

And key leaders across an organization, whether it be in the business unit level, or whether it be in HR, or whether it be in finance and recognizing that their long term goals should be a part of education programs and assessing what skills are necessary for employers, for employees to have, in order for them to deliver against their goals. And so following these workshops, what instride does is really take a design thinking approach, and then working with our academic partners and creating a customized education offering that addresses the specific organizational need. So when we think about developing this customized solution, if you will, we also think on the back end, how do we scale this across an organization? How do we streamline processes, whether they be billing or whether they be awareness for a corporation, and doing that in a turnkey platform is really what we're focused on building. So that's the sort of unlocking that's the key to it, is having it all under one roof, for learners and corporations to be able to, you know, see what they need to see, explore different career options, explore different programs that may be,


Michelle Westfort  6:25  

you know, important to them. But at the bottom line is recognizing that their Corporation has invested in them. And very often has selected the programs that are important to that particular Corporation, and even drill down at the business unit level, this is important to the business unit leader, these are the skills, these are the degrees, these are the programs that my Corporation wants me to have. That's how we bridge it. 


Amy Baron

Yeah. And, you know, you hear a lot about stackable credentials these days and micro credentials and sort of this ability for professionals to build their skill sets and their credentials without necessarily doing, you know, university credit, or, you know, just doing some other type of credential. So can you talk to the the issue of credentialing and degrees and how all of that fits together? 


Michelle Westfort

Yeah, so for the longest time, education was just so linear, you would go to high school, and then you would go to college, and then you would work for X number of years before you retired. And this shift to sort of lifelong learning initiatives has changed the way we think about consuming education. And stackable credentials are a really important part of that, because it means that you don't necessarily have to go in that linear track, you can move and create your own adventure, you can, you know, take something from here, you can take something from there, and to the extent that it stacks together, and you can create credit, you never really lose in that progression from point A to point B.


Michelle Westfort    8:12  

You know, and when I think about why, and how and what we're seeing in the corporate world, a lot of this stems from the push towards affordability in higher education. And if I take this, I don't want to lose the next step. I don't want to lose those credits, I want to be able to, you know, keep that momentum going. And and that has been a lot of the driver.


Michelle Westfort  8:42  

And to be honest with you, I think back 30 years when I was in high school, and this is what I was trying to solve for when I was in high school. It's just a segue into kind of my story, which you had mentioned, you want to hear, I'm happy to share what that is. My career journey actually started with a number of failed academic pursuits. So I was tagged, most likely to succeed, you know, highly likely in the 11th grade, I graduated in three years because I marched into my guidance office and I said, you know, there has to be a more efficient route to being a dentist, which is what I wanted. So in thinking about vocationally, how do you pursue the career that you think you want? And what's the best way to do it? And I said, the courses that we have at this high school are not going to get me what I want to do quickly and efficiently. And how do we create this better route? So it's funny my I have coffee with my mom every, every morning, and this past weekend. She said do you are you're still on the same mission from 30 years ago. You know, and and this is this is what it was and effectively it was I said I need to take this


Michelle Westfort  10:00  

microbiology class at one of the fanciest prep schools in New Jersey, which by the way, my mom drove me back and forth to 45 minutes there 45 minutes back in order for me to take this class that I thought I needed outside of the public school education that that I was having, and then to go to night school at the local community college to fill in certain courses that I thought I needed, and to do dental hygiene school before dental school, because that was the track that was the route that I thought in my head would create a pathway. And so to think about this 30 years later, and what's really important about that experience, which to be honest with you, me, it failed, it didn't work, I realized that that I didn't want to pursue that career. But when we think about stackability, when we think about microcredentials, when we think about pathways, the goal here is really to think about enabling awareness, helping people bridge what they want in their careers in creating as many off ramps as we are on ramps, and for me, it was dust myself off transfer to community college, back to community college after this, you know, failed attempt, take out loans, complete my bachelor's degree, while I'm working as a full time employee commuting to Manhattan. And in my first job, right, so all of these things together, I think about as a part of this journey that so many people do, I'm not like the only one that, you know, has pieced together and cobbled together learning and that's the value of, you know, being able to unbundle this education really, there's also the issue of timing, right, because what we've seen now with COVID, is that community colleges and public universities have seen a drop off in enrollment, because so many people now just cannot afford higher education. And so they're having to stop, pause, maybe make some money, and then maybe go back. And so that continuity can often be difficult to sustain. Right. So having the ability to kind of piece together, as you're saying credentials is is very valuable. Well, and that is one of the things that drew me to instride is recognizing that employers should be a part of the solution. And that when employers can care about their people, and help them afford this kind of education, that's when we see meaningful impact. That's when you can create social impact. That's when you can really make a difference in families. And you know, where people go, do you have any element of instride that is internship or externship, related, because that's another way for undergraduates, people pursuing degrees to really get their hands dirty with the work. So the way that we see internships and externships is that it's important, it's really important for an employer to recognize what they need on their team, and support and facilitate the learning in tandem with their employees. And what we've recognized is increased, you know, success rates in completion, when a manager at the manager level really supports that learning. And so while we don't create formal internships, we highly support through our corporate success teams, the facilitation of what employers need around apprenticeship. And that means that a leader should really be creating a way in which that employee understands that the time that they invest in their education is an investment. And the the progress that they make should also be seen in the progress that they are bringing to their work. And so our success teams really think about how they can support corporations in drawing that out and what specific things are needed from a leadership perspective to enable that? 


Amy Baron

What are some of the biggest skill gaps you're seeing now? And what are some of the most highly sought after education programs? It's a great question and one of the things that would be you know, not new to you or anybody else is this shift to


Michelle Westfort  15:00  

automation, what we recognize is that through serving CEOs, 100% of CEOs say that, you know, talent is one of the most important critical things in their business, and they're paying attention to that 25% of employees, jobs will be impacted in some way through automation. So when we see skills gaps, they often fall in some way around that, whether that be to recognize that the skill needs to be, you know, around soft skills and critical thinking and resolving for things because of this shift towards automation, or we recognize that there are technical and hard skills that are actually really necessary. And we're seeing, you know, a surge in highly technical programs in the IoT and data sciences. And then on the flip side, how do you tell stories, and what is important to recognize from extracting the data and being able to articulate and communicate that so we're seeing that consistently across the board. 


Amy Baron

I mean, this is sort of the dichotomy of higher education, right, you've got the life of the mind and the liberal arts versus, you know, preparing for the workforce and more of the hard skills. And that's always been kind of a dual purpose that the university has served. But the soft skills I'm hearing so much more about now, and I hear them called power skills, I don't know if you've heard that term. Tell us that. So So we have, we've heard this this term, power skills before. And one of the things that was critical to architecting, the network for instride, was being grounded with research institutions and research institutions that can lean into deeper things within their structure. And very often, the liberal arts part of the education is fundamental to the no holistic,


Michelle Westfort  17:06  

you know, outcome, if you will, of each of those learners. And when we take degree completion, and we we combine that with the research institutions like your Arizona State University, yes, number one in innovation, but one of the things I'm incredibly proud of with the partnership with ASU is that taking the soft skills and inserting that into the programs has been a part of their education, similarly, with our other academic partners, with City University of New York, recently ranked at the top and online programs, you know, alongside of Arizona State University. So we're really excited about, you know, some of these things where you can take an institution who is trying to create a holistic, well rounded individual, and bring some of these skills to bear. So we see this as an important part of the educational offering, and something that we're seeing corporations really value. Yeah, yeah, it sounds great. Are there are there other


Amy Baron  18:19  

characteristic characteristics of instride, or features of


Amy Baron  18:24  

the company or the services that you wanted to highlight Michelle today?


Michelle Westfort  18:30  

I think what's important about what we're doing at instride, is that ultimately, we're creating a greater impact. And enduring that through traditional tuition assistance programs that didn't work in the past, we're really changing that we're unlocking opportunity for people. And it's not a new concept that tuition assistance is available, corporations have traditionally had, you know, tuition assistance programs. And if we think about corporate America, which spends approximately $28 billion a year on tuition assistance, and corporate sponsor training programs, what is actually missing, right, when we start to unpack that, we recognize that most executives are actually dissatisfied with many of these programs, because at the end of the day, they're not producing the desired business outcomes. And one of the things that we're really focused on is being able to connect the dots between an employee and what that employee is learned, and the organizational results. And so I think it's important to think about you know, that this is not a new idea or a concept, what is new is the approach and how we're doing it. And so I think it's important to, you know, leave listeners with


Michelle Westfort  20:00  

This idea and inspiration that we can get better with the work that we do. We can improve results for individuals, we can improve results for business. And we when we all work together, we can probably achieve some pretty impactful and meaningful results. Sounds fantastic. And I'm really supportive of the concept and the mission. And I wish you the best of success within stride. And it's been such a pleasure talking to you. Michelle was four. Thank you so much, Amy. Thank you.


Amy Baron  20:43  

And thank you all for listening to upskilled. This episode has been brought to you by convergent learning, specializing in education technology, product consulting and market strategy. You can follow me on LinkedIn or on Twitter at Amy Baron one. That's amybaron1 and we'll see you next time on upskill.


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