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We know all too well that the current virus pandemic is impacting enrollments in the near term, but this is temporary -- the pandemic will pass. It will take months, perhaps even a year or two, but this threat will be behind us. We will be wiser and, I hope, better prepared for such disasters in the future.

Meanwhile, trends that began before the virus emerged are growing stronger. These changes will impact the demand for programs and modes of delivery for the long term. Employers are seeing expanding pressure to provide rapidly changing advanced technical services and products. Their needs are growing while the supply chain of qualified workers is tightening. As a result, we are seeing a growing demand for lifelong learning. We are already seeing students of all ages returning for continuing and professional education. The U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the average tenure of American workers with their current employer is 4.2 years. That means that workers are not just changing jobs, but changing places of employment at a rapid pace. Advancing in this environment requires regular training and advancing education. Upskilling is the key to success in this fourth industrial revolution.

Strada Education has released the results of their most recent edition of the longitudinal study of prospective learners. With more than 5,000 surveyed, the nonprofit Strada reports, "We expect this is a wide range of formal and informal education activities," Dave Clayton, senior vice president for consumer insights at Strada, said in an email. "As we prepare for economic downturn, everyone's wondering about the implications for education -- we don’t fully know the impact yet, but we're tracking this closely. What we do know so far, based on this survey and our historic surveys, is that Americans want to see direct career benefits from their education."

We need to respond to these trends in student demand. As Clayton points out, adult learners want their programs delivered online and directly tied to career development and advancement. That is our expanding role in higher education -- online professional and continuing education. It is the growth sector of higher ed.

The first step in this process is to identify job market needs and student demands. We can do that by checking in with the business and industry in our region -- create an advisory committee of business and commerce leaders. National resources are already in place to help guide us in tracking demand for new employee qualifications.

LinkedIn Learning released a list of the skills that companies need most in 2020. This valuable report is worth a careful read. Among the top soft skills are creativity, persuasion, collaboration and adaptability. These are topics that can be best addressed in short courses. They must be online -- available anywhere, any time. Even self-paced modules can be effective. They are most effective for students seeking jobs if they carry badges that identify the specific skills learned and evidence of that learning. The LinkedIn Learning report also lists the hard skills that top its 2020 list. These include blockchain, cloud computing, analytical reasoning and artificial intelligence. These skills may require a series of modules or classes to master. For hard skills a certificate that also carries badges for each increment is the best approach. The badges will certify the learning in each incremental part -- module -- of the certificate.

This is the new role for higher education in the fourth industrial revolution. That does not mean we need to discard our degree programs. Not at all. Instead we can use these approaches to build on-ramps to the degree programs and to build career ramps from the degrees to jobs. We will see graduates returning to us for just-in-time, up-to-date learning opportunities to build their e-portfolios. Our connections to students will not end with graduation but will continue throughout the following half century and more if we continue to provide offerings that meet their needs.

As the economy reopens after we have subdued the coronavirus, it will be clear that we have arrived in the fourth industrial revolution, where demands for leaders, collaborators and communicators will be paramount to advance the incredible technologies that are now emerging. Our success in higher education hinges on our recognizing and responding to those needs by providing relevant new career paths for new students and upskilling career-advancing paths for returning learners.

Are you connecting with business and industry leaders to determine their needs and preferences for new hires? Are you using badging, e-portfolios, certifications and related strategies to meet these demands? Will you be prepared for the reopening of the world economy?

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