The Role of Higher Education in the Work Force

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The Role of Higher Education in the Work Force
Traditional notions of education are no longer sufficient to prepare a workforce for a contingent and dynamic world. Currently, we live in an era driven by information, global competition, and new technologies that are changing the way we think, live, and work. The Industrial Revolution was built on machinery, skills and labor; however, the information and knowledge-based revolution of the 21st Century is being built on investment, intellect, and creativity. New jobs are emerging which require a different set of knowledge, skills, and attitudes. To cope with such changes we need continuous education and development of “the human mind and imagination” which, to a large extent, is undertaken by higher education. Higher education can be obtained in the workplace through training by managers and supervisors. It can also be attained through universities, technical school, and continuing education courses. ‘Work-based learning’, as explained by Carol Costley from the National Institute of Work Based Learning, Middlesex University, is part of a cluster of concepts, including ‘lifelong learning’, ‘employability’ and ‘flexibility’. One of the challenges which results from this for higher education providers to employees is to attempt to introduce some clarity about what work based learning at this level involves and the contexts in which it occurs. “It is evident there can be no single or simple definition of what work based learning entails beyond the notion that it is about learning (not teaching) and occurs in the workplace (rather than on campus). As such, work based learning can, and should be, distinguished from the notion of work related learning; the latter, in the form of vocational programs designed to prepare people for employment which often includes employer-determined competencies, and does not necessarily require significant areas of the curriculum to be completed in the work place itself. Neither should it be assumed that work based learning in the higher education context is specifically about training. Work based learning may take many forms and be undertaken for a number of different purposes. It is not restricted to performance-related learning in a narrow sense. Instead, the emphasis is on identifying and demonstrating learning that has occurred through work based activity, wherever and however this may have been achieved.” It is not necessarily the experience of work itself that is paramount – rather it is the learning that an individual derives from that experience of work and from reflecting upon it. A government-sponsored review recognized that work-based learning could take many forms including a full-time undergraduate undertaking a work placement planned as part of the curriculum, a full-time undergraduate doing a part-time job, or a full-time employee seeking to explore work focused and work-related issues in the context of the knowledge, skills, and values of a higher education institution. The common factor linking these forms was that the individual would be doing a job of work, or would be undertaking a work role. However, confusion remains over work-based learning terminology for employers and higher education, and as a result it is recognized as essential that a common language is established. It is critically important to establish a shared understanding of the particular area of focus from both an academic and employer perspective, irrespective of the terms used. It is also clear that the work-based learning landscape has become more densely populated in recent years, with diverse partners, players, and cultures now located on its territories. However, one concept that is frequently used in discussions of work-based learning is flexibility. All organizations, including higher education, are expected to respond flexibly and rapidly to labor market changes. Flexibility may require working in partnership or collaboratively with other organizations in...
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