As a field that has remained relatively unchanged over the decades, higher education is overdue for a major makeover to adjust to the changes over the decades in our society. We have lost affordability and relevance to many prospective students and employers. As a result, four million fewer students are attending college than a decade ago. Now, fewer employers are requiring college degrees. The advent of new technical capabilities such as generative artificial intelligence promises to create even greater pressure to replace positions with less expensive and more efficient AI applications. These factors combine with other socioeconomic conditions to create a downward pressure on the budgets of colleges and universities.
As a result of these factors, institutions are re-examining strategic plans, operations, priorities and staffing. The time has come for those colleges and universities that are losing enrollments and suffering reduced revenues to reconsider nearly all aspects of their operations. The reviews include the currency of curricula, applicability of credentials, connections to employers, efficiency of support units and, most particularly, the capabilities and capacity of employees to meet the changing needs of the institution.
Of course, higher education is not the only field facing these changes. At the recent World Economic Forum, the buzz was all about ChatGPT and ways in which artificial intelligence will change the workplace. However, as a field that has been on decline for more than a decade, higher education is seen as ripe for change.
Perhaps as a result of the enrollment declines and overall lower value placed on college degrees, surveys show that many of us employed in the field of higher education are ready to leave our jobs for other positions. A survey last year from the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources found that more than half of respondents said they were inclined to look for other employment within the next 12 months. Findings of the survey showed 57.2 percent of respondents were somewhat likely (22.3 percent), likely (12.5 percent) or very likely (22.4 percent) to seek work elsewhere within the next year. That number jumped 14 percent since the previous year, when 43 percent of higher ed employees reported they planned to leave their jobs within the next 12 months.
If you are among the majority of employees in our field who may soon be seeking employment elsewhere, what should you be doing to advance your qualifications and opportunities in the job market? How can you ensure that you possess the skills and knowledge that will make you a valuable and sought-after employee within or outside of higher education?
As Daniel Bortz suggests in “5 professional development tips to stay relevant in the workforce” at Monster.com, “Hiring managers want to see that you’re invested in your professional development, no matter what stage you’re at in your career. This shows initiative and curiosity, as well as the understanding that you can—and should—always learn new things.” That is what we are all about in education. Professional development and skills development on a continuing basis are central to keeping relevant in your field. Bortz suggests that networking, social media presence and visibility in your field are also key to advancing your chances of being hired. That may be accomplished by engaging in higher education associations, conferences and publications. Those connections can provide a forum to display your abilities and leadership strengths.
In some cases, you may feel that you are competing against an all-knowing artificial intelligence application that has superhuman capabilities and is up to the minute on the latest theories, practices and applications in your field. LivingHR suggests that you emphasize your human strengths. In “Are Robots Really Taking Over? 3 Tips to Stay Relevant in Tomorrow’s Workplace” LivingHR posits that while AI will take over many jobs that had been exclusively human-performed in the past, they will also open new opportunities for the human touch. “Human direction will still be vital because of the need and ability to understand relationship dynamics, which is a key component to the decision-making process.”
Indeed—the employment and hiring firm—has more than a dozen recommendations for those who are seeking to master the skills of the future. As you might expect, they recommend problem-solving, continuous learning, creative thinking and communication skills. They also suggest cognitive flexibility which is an important asset to multitask and adapt to various working environments. In addition, digital literacy combined with emotional intelligence enables a balanced ability to take on both the technological and more human leadership challenges that will come with many positions in the future. Finally, “self-management” is key to meeting the expectations of the employer. “Self-management is the capacity to be responsible for finishing a job and addressing time constraints in an effective manner.”
This may be a year of change at your institution; many employees may come and go as priorities, emphases and technologies shift to better meet the needs of students and employers. Learning and engagement are among the top priorities in higher education. They are the same priorities for us as we pursue our individual careers wherever they may lead. You will be well served if you keep learning and engaging in the field while you sort through these changes. Communication and connections will be your allies. There will be new opportunities for those of us who keep these priorities in this time of change in higher education.