My previous two pieces in this “inspiring tech” series have been about the need to inspire tech dreams and discipline in students for them to be able to qualify themselves for roles in the emerging tech sector. There is also a need to inspire tech bridges to be constructed or reinforced for adult learners to have pathways to cross over into positions in tech fields that can improve their quality of life and deploy their talents in different ways. I have listed three strategies that tech bridge builders can use in their quest to find ways to connect adult learners to programs at higher education institutions that can equip them for accelerating opportunities in the tech sector.
1. Adapt to the needs of adult learners and go where they are.
It is obvious that working adults typically have a different set of perspectives and responsibilities than their counterparts who may be coming directly from high school. Adapting course scheduling and delivery to fit their needs will be a critical component of building the bridges that are needed for people to cross from one career path to another.
There is also a need to identify where potential adult students congregate in order to get information to them about opportunities in the tech sector. This allows for the broad dissemination of information and gives room for additional relationship building that comes with the follow up questions and answer sessions where interested potential students can garner further insights into how they can make the transition into a tech career.
Trade organizations and unions can also be great partners in upskilling their members with additional technology-related tools that they can apply to their current career paths. Parents of existing students who recently matriculated from high school are also a group that can be engaged through orientations and other communication forums where they can receive knowledge that can lead to the upliftment of their circumstances. If they can be shown a path for how they can get it done, then all that is needed is the belief that they have the ability to do it and the inspiration to take the necessary steps to complete it.
2. Lead with emerging opportunities and compensation potential.
A bridge into tech careers alone will not be sufficient if people don’t believe that the cost that they will have to pay to cross the bridge is worth it. Finding and keeping relevant motivation is paramount. The gas tank of motivation is one that must be refilled frequently. Finding different ways to provide students with reminders of how their hard work and sacrifice can pay off will bring long term benefits in the areas of retention and completion.
The potential salaries that people can make both starting off and as they progress in their new career field should be presented to potential students along with examples of adult learners who have successfully transitioned from other fields into tech. This helps to strengthen the belief that it can happen for them as well. Additionally, those who have already made the transition into tech positions can also serve as mentors for others who aspire to. The cultivation of mentorship programs can be a “win-win” for everyone involved if structured appropriately. Mentorship is needed at all levels of life.
Emerging opportunities in tech are a big part of where the future of the economy is headed. This case should be made to adult learners that they can prepare and position themselves now to have skills that will become increasingly more relevant. College and university support staff can help students to identify and fill their skill gaps and explain how the programming can provide a personalized and skill-based education that can help them to fulfill their career promise and purpose.
3. Clearly lay out the path.
People can run faster and more confidently when they know where they are going. Clearly laying out the path over the bridge can alleviate a lot of doubt, fear, and worry and allow those energies to be directed in a more positive and productive direction. Clarity and confidence are two keys to retaining students once they have entered a given program.
Clearly laying out the path for adult learners involves identifying vivid descriptions of programing and utilizing appropriate media options that are consistent with the intended communication objectives to optimize message delivery and the processing of the message. Various forms of communication with students and prospective students can be considered and evaluated on an ongoing basis as potential delivery channels for communication including the website which is typically the number one source of advertising for programs. Websites should be bold, exciting, highly informative, and easy to navigate.
The path for students may be to reskill, upskill, or fully transition to a different career. Any of these routes can be laid out with clarity so that students can understand and buy into completing their journey in the program.
Additionally, the specific skill sets and core competencies that they would acquire in a given program should be explained. These sets of skills operate like currency in the tech world. It is important to explain the transferrable nature of these competencies and how they can be applied across various job categories in multiple sectors. Doing this can increase the motivation to become competent in these areas because of the versatile way that they can be applied. This provides the people who obtain a level of competency with more options for deploying their knowledge, skills, and abilities.
Higher education institutions can play a key role in constructing bridges that inspire adult learners to repurpose themselves, reconnect to their dreams, and generate new aspirations. The poet Langston Hughes wrote “hold fast to dreams, for if dreams die, life is a broken-winged bird, that cannot fly.” As the years go by, some adult learners may have abandoned some of the dreams that they once had. They may have buried their dreams, but the economy of the future provides a way for people to go dig up dreams that they once had and connect to them in a new way.
There are those who may feel trapped in what they feel is a “dead end” job and have surrendered to a limited projection of what they can be. Ultimately, inspiring the building of tech bridges requires bridge builders at educational institutions, workforce development organizations, and corporate entities to find innovative ways to construct pathways for adult learners to equip themselves to improve the quality of their lives by crossing over into tech-oriented careers.
Dr. Marcus Bright is a scholar and educational administrator.