Industry Insights

Meet the Working Learner

11/10/21   |  
Graeme Owens, EVP & Country Manager at Keypath Education Canada

Lately, I’ve been talking a lot about online macro-credentials. They benefit the learning missions of postsecondary institutions, and, at the same time, they address the needs of the labour market. But there is one more important group that benefits from online macro-credentials: the working learner.

The working learner is best defined as a mid-career professional (probably in their 30s or 40s) in a skilled profession who has career-oriented goals and needs to further invest in their skills to get to their next level. Not only is this investment important to the learner, but it’s also important to employers, too. A LinkedIn study has shown that opportunities for development have become the second most important factor in workplace happiness (after the nature of the work itself).

Notwithstanding the benefits of ongoing professional education, working learners face certain challenges. They have families. Mortgages. Responsibilities. They often can’t simply pick up and relocate near a campus.

To reach their goals, a traditional on-campus degree program is not practical, and in many cases, not needed. Online macro-credentials have been developed to fulfil this need: they serve fields that see significant occupational demand, projected job growth, and the potential for creating economic and social impact. Offered by degree-granting education providers – typically universities – the introduction of online macro-credential programs is guided by objectives including student-serving missions, financial returns, and community-minded impact.

Seizing New Opportunities

When it comes to working learners, we are not talking about a small group of people. We are speaking not only about those who are already committed to ongoing professional development as they move within their chosen profession but about people who will be upskilling or reskilling – a group expected to increase due to ongoing, long-term changes in the workforce and the immediate effects of the pandemic. 

Post-pandemic data is hard to come by, but a  2017 report by the Advisory Council on Economic Growth predicted that by 2030, automation and changes in existing occupations could threaten the jobs of more than 10 percent of Canadian workers unless they acquire new skills. It goes on to say that about 31 percent of working-age Canadians have indicated that they would like to complete additional education and training, but faced significant barriers due to time commitments, personal obligations, and other factors — a number we think we will continue to grow coming out of the pandemic.

In other words – when it comes to working learners, there is a will to pursue change, and postsecondary institutions clearly represent the way. What if postsecondary institutions took what they learned when we were all thrown into remote versions of how we approach work and education during COVID? What if we planned more courses and programs more carefully and deliberately? Remember that — for the working learner — the bar is awfully high for digital experiences, given that so many of us shop, communicate, and work online in all-digital formats all day long. So, it’s not simply a matter of converting the on-campus experience to a digital format — it’s about re-imagining what an on-campus course looks like online for digital natives, from the ground up. I think that’s very exciting.

Reaching a New Audience

We sometimes forget this but working university graduates are already proven learners. And while their degrees may be a decade (or more) old, the accumulated experience and leadership that working learners bring to the classroom can create amazing learning experiences for their fellow students and instructors alike. We’re talking about people who have relevant and necessary life experience. They might be married, they might have kids, and they have definitely learned how the market works. They can afford and will pay for the best university. As a result of all this, they have high expectations of university faculty and staff — which drives quality of instruction and student experience in positive ways.

The desire to learn is just one of the attractive qualities working learners bring to the table. They are outstanding prospects for postsecondary schools: they are motivated, interested, and flexible, and they may have access to employer tuition reimbursement or government student financial aid programs to help pay for their education. They represent a large opportunity for postsecondary schools to innovate and adapt to new educational markets and labour market demand in a strong, knowledge-based economy simply can’t be met without them.

Reskilling and Upskilling

The working learner is already a highly qualified and skilled professional. However, to keep pace with the evolving labour market, and reach their personal and professional goals, upskilling or reskilling becomes an attractive path forward. And online macro-credentials can help them do both of those things.

  • Career-changers are looking to reskill and pursue a new career path such as a hospital research assistant with a college diploma transitioning to become a registered nurse
  • Career-accelerators are looking to upskill and progress in their current occupation or field such an engineer developing leadership and management competencies to advance to the executive suite

Even professionals who are just starting out could benefit from online macro-credential programming. For example, someone who plans to work in a field that requires an entry-to-practice program, such as a young graduate with a bachelor of arts pursuing a career path in social work.

We believe in working learners, and the benefits that come from supporting them for Canada’s changing, growing economy. That’s why we are working with our partners to launch online macro-credentials that are positioned to make a difference in people’s lives, in our workplaces, and in our postsecondary communities. It’s a topic we’ll be speaking about more often in the weeks.

Get in touch with us if you're interested in learning more.

This article originally appeared on LinkedIn.