From his office overlooking the Puget Sound in Seattle, the University of Washington professional and continuing education chief is helping to lead a national charge to shake up higher ed. UW Continuum College Vice Provost Rovy Branon is championing the “60-year curriculum,” encouraging universities to deliver relevant programs for working adults and professionals, to recognize that their education doesn’t end on graduation day.
“This is especially true for engineers and those who work in technology fields – which arguably means every field because technology is influencing every industry and business,” says Branon.
E100: What are the top three things engineers need to do to keep their skills relevant in their current roles, or to make themselves more competitive for the next one?
RB: First, we need to recognize that learning must be constant throughout our careers. Automation and changes in the workplace mean professionals must continually retool to stay relevant and competitive. There are jobs today that didn’t exist several years ago, such as data scientist or drone operator. A discussion paper from the McKinsey Global Institute predicts that in the next ten to 15 years, the need for new tech skills will accelerate. We will also need people who will develop, innovate and adapt those technologies. The paper asserts that, right now, 80% of the workforce doesn’t have the skills for most of the jobs that will be available in the next five to ten years.
The second piece is having clarity about your career goals with some flexibility built in. Setting goals and milestones helps plan out how you will build on your strengths and skills to meet the emerging needs in the job market. This is where a mentor, career coach or advisor from a program you’re considering can provide perspective and help you prioritize.
That leads to the third part of the equation. Engineers need to know their industry or business and how it’s changing. Certificate programs and boot camps from accredited, respected higher ed institutions that develop programs in collaboration with employers will keep you competitive. Be sure to find out what resources will be available after you’ve completed the program. Top-notch continuing education programs consider certificate program and bootcamp graduates as alumni and invite them to take part in workshops and networking events. Those resources can be invaluable as you evolve your career.
E100: What advice do you have for adult learners going “back to school” for a second degree or professional certificate program?
RB: Whether it’s a university or a “boot camp,” choose a program that maintains high quality standards. Make sure it has an industry advisory board and find out how the educators ensure that your certificates are actually in demand.
And be prepared for it to have an impact on your lifestyle. The best certificate programs are rigorous experiences. Be ready for the many hours of classwork, studying and commuting it will take to succeed. Understand the logistics – if it’s an online certificate, do you have a quiet place to study? If it’s in-person, how will you get to class from work, and how it will impact your family or social commitments?
E100: As president-elect of the University Professional and Continuing Education Association, you talk about the importance of having a “60-year curriculum for a 100-year life.” What does that mean for engineers, specifically?
RB: It’s a way to conceptualize the modern era of lifelong learning. It is the formal higher education experiences engineers will need throughout their working life. Getting a degree, getting a job and never setting foot in a classroom again are not today’s reality. We need more education throughout our working lives. This is especially true for engineers and those who work in technology fields – which arguably means every field because technology is influencing every industry and business.
Engineers are problem solvers. And living longer presents new considerations and challenges that past generations did not have. Taking a problem-solving approach, arming ourselves with tools and knowledge and creatively applying those is second-nature to engineers – it’s time now to apply that process to careers, education and a lifetime of learning and reskilling.
E100: Your Ph.D. is in instructional systems technology and with a minor in human-computer interaction. What parts of your technical background do you bring to your role as vice provost of a leading research university?
RB: I continue to think of myself as an educational systems designer but instead of building patented mobile apps or online courses like I did early in my career, I am developing policies, funding models, and building the staff to deliver world class education to each individual, delivered in an optimal format, at the right time in their lives. That is a challenge that requires deep understanding of what technology can do now and what it is likely to be able to do in a few years.
– Tia Over, The Engineering 100