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Higher Education Adapting to the Ever-Changing Technological Landscape

Lauren Sega Lauren Sega Higher Education Adapting to the Ever-Changing Technological LandscapePhoto via Franklin University's Facebook Page.
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It’s a changing world out there. Remember when mobile phones became a thing? For younger readers, maybe not. At first they couldn’t even send text messages; now they can possess any and every facet of life: address book and agenda, photos of your kid’s first steps, social media accounts, banking information — the list goes on.

At first the progress was gradual, but it’s picked up speed. Back in the 60s, Intel cofounder and tech-head Gordon Moore established a rule called Moore’s law, which observed that the capacity to store and process information doubles every two years. If trends continue, innovators may soon break that law.

“Moore’s law explains why today’s average teenager has more computing power in her iPhone than the typical Fortune 500 company of the 1960s had in its multimillion-dollar computer center,” says an article published by Optimity, a global business consulting company. “It also explains why a nineteenth-century management model is unsustainable in a twenty-first century world.”

In this ever-changing technological context, how do colleges and universities prepare the emerging workforce? Todd Warner, Executive in Residence for Workforce Innovation at Columbus State Community College (CSCC), says it takes close relationships between higher education institutions and the industries for which they’re preparing their students.

In Franklin County and the 11 other counties surrounding it, manufacturing and logistics make up a large portion of the labor force. To make sure students can meet the demands of companies in these areas, CSCC has partnered with businesses like Honda to understand their needs and train a class of students who will be able to fulfill them.

For Honda, as automation has simplified the manufacturing assembly line, a large supply of service techs familiar with hydraulics and electromechanical engineering is needed to replace the wrench-turning jobs of yesteryear.

“It used to take 25 people to produce $1 million of manufactured goods. Today it takes five,” Warner says. “And it’s not that the other 20 people don’t have jobs, it’s that those jobs have shifted to be a higher skill set, so moving people from more of a manual entry-level skill to a middle-management skill, understanding and managing the robots, or managing the people that manage the robots and repair them.”

As more changes occur, the CSCC curriculum adapts. It’s similar to Franklin University’s approach, which also involves partnerships with regional companies, like Battelle and Nationwide, as well as internships and soft skills training.

Franklin’s partnerships are formed using advisory boards staffed by industry professionals. These boards, as well as adjunct instructors with industry know-how, communicate the changing trends and needs and give feedback and input on curriculum changes for the next school year. While company CIOs make up some of the advisory boards, they’re largely made up of hiring managers from the businesses involved, which Franklin University Information Technology Program Chair Todd Whittaker says provides more ground-level insight on industry demands.

“Many of the principles stay the same, but the technology or application domain changes from time to time,” says Whittaker. “So, programming languages, increase or decrease in popularity, cloud services, private versus public clouds — all of those are rapidly changing, and we have to make the decision about, if we start from zero with a student who knows almost nothing about technology, how do we get them to where they can get an entry-level position when the amount of material they have to know keeps increasing.”

Filling some industry needs, such as the need for a workforce at all (unemployment in technology-related fields is under 2 percent), will rely on much more than universities’ ability to keep up, though, Whittaker says. Companies all want the same kind of employee: an experienced professional whose been in the field for at least three to five years.

“It’s not that there’s a dearth of people in the workforce. There’s a dearth of people with three to five years of experience in the workforce,” Whittaker says. “That’s the sweet spot, and that’s where everyone wants to hire. Someone has to provide that three to five years of experience and hire somebody out of college who doesn’t have any experience.”

Ultimately, the industry-higher education relationship will need to remain strong for tech professionals to get the jobs they want and for companies to hire the laborers they need. Warner says the “2+2 pathway” available at CSCC accomplishes that.

CSCC students who are on the pathway simultaneously work full time with a company such as Honda. The next fall, they’re again working on-site with a manufacturer, attending school for two days and their internship for three days. After earning their degree from CSCC, students are up for employment, usually with the company where they interned, and can have their tuition reimbursed to seek further education at a four-year university, like The Ohio State University.

“The whole time, Honda is paying them a livable wage. These are $16 to $19 per hour wages,” Warner says. “Then they have a chance to select an employer, their starting wages are a living wage, and when they get that job, they’re not stopping their education.”

Universities like Franklin and CSCC are also preparing high school students for tech careers, allowing them to take college courses to complete a few or even all the credits required to have an associate’s degree. But, no matter how prepared these students may be for their chosen career, Warner said to truly succeed, they’ll need to continue their education indefinitely.

“When we talk about students and how do we prepare them for the future when we still don’t understand what the future will bring, it goes back to the basics,” Warner says. “Never stop learning. Be a lifelong learner, whether you’re going to class or picking up a new skill on the job, or it’s a hobby on the weekends and you’re learning something new. That should be ingrained in everyone.”

Our new technology series is presented by our partners in the City of Dublin.

Dublin is a city of more than 47,000 residents located just northwest of Columbus, Ohio. The City of Dublin Economic Development team has a vision to make Dublin a Midwest IT Magnet through business leadership and sustainable workforce development. This commitment goes beyond short-term skills training to include long-term strategic and cultural support for the entire Dublin business community. Dublin is one of America’s Top 20 Creative Class Cities and is home to more than 20 corporate headquarters, an entrepreneurial center, 3,000+ businesses, world-class events and the urban, walkable Bridge Street District.

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