Partnerships in Learning Lead to a More Educated Workforce

Partnerships in Learning Lead to a More Educated Workforce

By Dennis Bonilla, Executive Dean of University of Phoenix, College of Information Systems and Technology

Technology has disrupted and forever changed the way we do business, and in turn has altered the required skill sets of the workforce needed to run it. Digital technology is a vertical that crosses every industry and impacts nearly every job. Today in the United States, those who are without any tech expertise can find themselves on the outside looking in when it comes to professional opportunities.

According to a report by Burning Glass, nearly 78 percent of middle skills jobs require some digital skills, such as spreadsheet and word processing proficiencies. Whether it be jobs that require basic computer skills, or that some of the fastest growing job sectors require advanced tech skills, such as writing and analyzing code to keep sensitive data secure, there is no disputing that technology has fundamentally and irreversibly changed the face of the job market.

These changes aren’t just impacting job seekers. Employers are struggling to build a pipeline of qualified professionals for the jobs they have available. For example, a 2015 Global Information Security Workforce Study estimates that the global shortfall in the information security workforce will reach 1.5 million in five years. Employers are increasingly working alongside higher education entities to tackle this challenge, as education and training must keep pace with industry advancement in order to provide employees with innovative and technology-focused skill sets.

Ensuring we have a workforce prepared to excel in the 21st century workplace is one of the most important challenges we face to remain competitive as a nation. And it’s not a challenge that can be undertaken by higher education or industry alone. Solving these workplace challenges will take collaboration between all interest groups that have a stake in equipping the workforce of today and tomorrow. 

Partnering to Educate the Workforce

The diversely skilled workforce required by today’s rapidly changing workplace calls for robust education and training. Matching educational programs to business and community needs requires higher-level collaboration and partnerships among stakeholders.

Higher education, business and industry must partner to ensure aspiring professionals have access to an educational experience that is agile, relevant and experiential and delivers industry-aligned training designed to immediately benefit both the student and the workforce. Curriculum cannot be developed in a silo and institutions of higher education cannot recycle course material that was previously relevant but now would leave students woefully underprepared for the 21st century workplace. Just as businesses are constantly adapting to the changing marketplace, so too must education adapt to ensure the workforce is properly trained.

These dynamics make partnerships in learning imperative as we work together to prepare the workforce of tomorrow. Innovative partnerships between education, business and industry can provide students of all kinds with access to education, pathways to careers and industry-aligned training. By working together, the student experience is better enhanced and the student is better-prepared when entering the workforce.

Partnerships Are Mutually Beneficial

Partnerships should not be seen as a requirement, but as a mutually beneficial opportunity for education and industry collaboration to improve the workforce. Among other benefits, business, government and industry can gain access to a steady stream of intern candidates and highly-skilled graduates, as well as provide their current staff with education, training and career development that can help with staff retention and elevation. At the same time, educational institutions that partner with employers can benefit from strong enrollment, job opportunities for alumni and access to industry insights and needs that can shape and inform curriculum.

Educational partnerships have broader economic and global impacts. A well-trained workforce sparks innovation, ignites creative thinking and accelerates industries forward.

Partnerships Improve Access to Education

In the education community, we recognize there is little in our work that is more important than ensuring students of all backgrounds have access to high quality educational experiences. It’s a national priority as well — the White House set an ambitious goal of producing a higher share of college graduates than any other nation by 2020, hoping to return the United States to the top ranking after dropping into 12th place.

A critical piece to building America’s bench of college graduates is through providing a variety of pathways to higher education, and one of the best ways to do this is through dynamic partnerships that deliver value, workplace experiences or resources that a university couldn’t do on its own. The following are some of the most important partnership areas we actively pursue at University of Phoenix.

Scholarships and Tuition Reimbursement

As workplace needs evolve, it’s likely that no one degree or training program will be adequate for an employee’s entire career. Consequently, employers and industry associations often find themselves searching for opportunities to upskill their current workforce. Scholarship programs can be one of the most effective ways for education and industry to partner in a targeted effort to help a current workforce gain the skill sets necessary to successfully compete in the job market. They also can be customized to the needs of the employer, and include not just an educational component, but also on-the-job-experience to ensure companies are getting the skills they need.

One such program is the Dream BIG Scholarship Program, conducted in partnership with the National Retail Federation (NRF). The national association is the world’s largest retail trade association, representing thousands of major retailers. Retail is the largest private sector employer in America, supporting one in four U.S. jobs and employing more than 42 million Americans. The scholarships provide those awarded the opportunity to pair education with work experience and ambitions to pursue a wide array of career opportunities within the retail industry. The flexibility of the degree program allows recipients to continue to work and live at home while advancing their education.

In the past four years, University of Phoenix and NRF have provided 50 full-tuition scholarships to deserving retail employees.

Higher Education Institutions Working Together

There are also opportunities for institutions of higher education to partner with each other to improve access to education. While colleges and universities might be competitors in the marketplace, ultimately they share the same goal — to train a workforce that will be successful today and lead us to tomorrow. By seeking opportunities to enhance the student experience and drive student success, higher education and industry come out on top.

University of Phoenix recently joined forces with Thurgood Marshall College Fund to accomplish this goal. Through a unique partnership, University of Phoenix provides students at select Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) member schools across the country with access to career-relevant curriculum and expanded course offerings through flexible online learning options, to further support a path toward graduation.

The partnership allows participating HBCUs to efficiently incorporate online learning options for current students that subsequently increases their abilities to meet the needs of a larger student population.

Access to Higher Education Resources

It’s also important in educational partnerships, that our best and brightest minds — our students — have the opportunity to help improve businesses during their educational experience. From graduate programs to research studies, there is significant opportunity to use the work of students to inform businesses. Companies and organizations who partner in this arena can provide students with access to experts and data which can then be utilized to drive research and propose solutions to current real-world problems. They can reap the benefits of this research and use it to inform their professional practices.

Recently I was named to the Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (AZHCC) Board of Directors. The mission of the AZHCC is to promote the success of Hispanic-owned and small businesses in the state. It begins with education. Providing Hispanic students with access to quality education is vital to the success of Arizona’s future economy. By 2020, Hispanic youth are projected to make up more than 50 percent of the K-12 public school student population in the state of Arizona. For the state to remain economically competitive, it must create pathways to post-secondary education for these students. According to the Pew Research Center, as recently as 2012, Hispanics accounted for only nine percent of young adults aged 25-29 with a bachelor’s degree.

Partnerships Build Pathways to Careers

Providing access to education is critical, but it isn’t enough to just provide an education. Colleges and universities must ensure that educational programs create a clear nexus between education and career-readiness. This can be accomplished by forging relationships with a wide range of employers, associations and others to truly understand staffing needs and allow that to inform academic programs. These efforts can provide curriculum, training and other educational opportunities that help prepare students for work with an industry or employer looking for a particular skill set.

Education and Industry Shaping Workforce Standards

While improving access to education and creating pathways to jobs is critical, perhaps the most important partnerships universities are exploring today are those that help to determine in real time the competencies across industries that are needed to keep up with the pace of the 21st century job market.

When education and industry work together, they have the opportunity to transform the way professionals are trained and ultimately hired. By partnering to standardize competencies, education and industry can work together to develop curriculum that can be taught across institutions of higher education. In addition, employers can offer a uniform set of hiring standards that reflect the training students are receiving.

University of Phoenix College of Security and Criminal Justice had the opportunity to do just that last year by working with the ASIS Foundation to develop the Enterprise Security Competency Model. This model, the first of its kind in the security industry, established a core set of skills and competencies required for security positions, ensuring a clear path to education, training and ultimately, competency to address 21st century security risks.

With no previous widely endorsed set of competencies and skills across the industry, the Enterprise Security Competency Model has quickly been adopted by companies of all sizes including Time Warner Cable and IBM. This model is intended to define the foundation for educating security professionals and ensure the consistent education and training of professionals who play a critical role in ensuring the safety and security of our nation.

Incentivizing Continued Education

Many industries can benefit from employees who choose to continue their education. However, cost and time often serve as barriers in the pursuit of advanced training. Education and industry have the opportunity to partner to remove these barriers by incentivizing employees through accelerated programs and course credit for real-world experience.   

For example, University of Phoenix has partnered with the Security Industry Association (SIA) to award students who have completed a SIA Certified Security Project Manager (CSPM) credential with 21 credit hours to apply toward a Bachelor of Science in Security Management from the University. Allowing professionals to apply real-world experience and applicable education toward academic degrees can inspire people to embark on an educational journey in which starting from ground zero may seem too daunting a task.

Helping Military Succeed in the Job Market

There are many resources available to military members as they transition to civilian life. However, having a transition plan is critical for these veterans as they move into new civilian careers, or look to enhance their existing careers. A 2015 online survey from University of Phoenix of 1,007 past and current service members found that less than one-third (31 percent) of past and current service members have made a transition plan.

Industry and education have a tremendous opportunity to help these soldiers by creating programs to assist military members with their career path goals.

Partners Building a Space for Innovation and Collaboration

The RedFlint Innovation Center is a joint venture between University of Phoenix College of Information Systems & Technology, University of Phoenix School of Business and Iron Yard Ventures designed to create hands-on, collaborative, experiential opportunities based on real problems facing communities and businesses today.

When RedFlint opens in September in Las Vegas, it will be a next-generation incubator: a space that brings together the free flow of information, learning and innovation under one roof with the express purpose of not only producing a quality workforce, but reinventing the traditional employee-business-industry model.

Situated in downtown Las Vegas and part of the city’s newly-branded Innovation District, RedFlint will provide businesses and the community the opportunity to explore new technologies and business angles to create solutions for local businesses and industries.

Ventures such as the RedFlint Innovation Center will provide opportunities designed to offer the chance to create and experience new concepts, programs and technology. The Center will be a space for businesses to bring concepts to life by accelerating an idea through the various stages of product development. It will also be a place where solutions that have timely and real business applications are incubated. It will innovate industry, and leverage local relationships to create a showcase of businesses and leaders that puts regional innovation on stage.

At RedFlint there will be an opportunity to partner with businesses and organizations in various ways to ensure the workforce is strong and skilled and maximize the experience. It will create opportunities and a place where partnerships can come together in a tangible way.

A Call to All to Expand Partnership Efforts

Supporting the continually evolving and innovative workplace of the 21st century can’t be done by one entity alone. Strategic partnerships between education and industry are key to ensure that a pipeline of well-trained and skilled professionals is consistently being infused into the workforce, enabling it to keep pace with the growth and innovation across industries.

University of Phoenix encourages institutions of higher education, businesses, government entities and other organizations to seek out opportunities to work together to provide the tools employees need to prosper, innovate and grow.

For more information about each of these programs, including on-time completion rates, the median debt incurred by students who completed the program and other important information, please visit:

For more information about scholarships, please visit:


Digital Skills Gap, Burning Glass, March 2015

(ISC) Global Information Security Workforce Study, 2015, page 3

National Retail Federation, “The Economic Impact of the U.S. Retail Industry,”

Datos: The State of Arizona’s Hispanic Market 2015, Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, page 198

Pew Research Center, “More Hispanics, blacks enrolling in college, but lag in bachelor’s degrees”

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