Linking learning and work to improve lives

For more than 40 years we at the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning, or CAEL, have been working with the public sector, private sector industries and higher education institutions to link learning and work and to ensure that adult students receive the most efficient training and education to occupy a meaningful professional place in a 21st century economy.

Since 1974 we have been working with adults to help them with their educational endeavours, finding practical ways to earn college credit for learning acquired through training and work experiences.

At the same time, we also work with employers to help them build their capacity to first identify employer skill needs and then connect worker skills to demand. Can our successful approach work elsewhere around the world? We think so. We’ll examine some of the challenges and some case studies to show how and why we believe it.

First, here’s how we work. For our focus on employees, through our LearningCounts.org programme, adults can use their life, work and military experience to gain college credit at a fraction of the cost and time required to earn more conventional classroom credits.

College credits

Adults can choose from an instructor-led or do-it-yourself online course where they will learn to identify and demonstrate college-level learning gained outside of the classroom. Using the knowledge from the course, students develop a Learning Portfolio that relates their life and work experience to college courses.

LearningCounts.org works best for those who are strong writers or have taken a basic college-level writing course and have completed at least one other online course. Applicants should also have good computer skills and feel comfortable taking an online course.

Finally, applicants should have several years of work, volunteer and-or other life experience in one or more areas that align with college coursework – for example, communications, management, information technology, marketing, healthcare or merchandising.

For employers, CAEL creates employee education programmes that can provide the necessary college credit for workers pursuing degrees or credentials, assuring that employers have access to a highly skilled, highly trained labour pool, which is necessary for maintaining organisational productivity.

These programmes allow the employer to develop talent at all levels – particularly, the entry and mid-level employees who create the company’s products, service the customers, support the culture and represent the brand.

At CAEL, we do this through:
  • • Interactive career maps that help employees see different opportunities within the organisation and the skills they will need to move into the position;
  • • Career advising to help them explore education and career options that align with the company’s goals;
  • • Education partnerships, to ensure high schools and colleges are graduating students with the skills and competencies employers need.
The ultimate goal of our efforts is to improve lives through better employment, which can be gained through better education and obtaining college degrees to demonstrate the learning.

We also work to align employment needs with an educated workforce and to create a healthy workforce ecosystem where communities have the right workers with the right skills. Communities that align education and training to economic development grow jobs, reduce unemployment and increase quality of life.

Case studies

The following case studies illustrate the kind of work we have been doing.

CAEL is working with Coastal Counties Workforce Inc, or CCWI, a local Workforce Investment Board in Maine. CCWI chose CAEL to help them identify key industries in their six county region, to articulate career pathways within these industries and to build or nurture existing regional partnerships to support them.

Each industry is evaluated on a variety of factors including size, projected growth and replacement jobs, degree of regional specialisation, accessibility of occupations, the job multiplier effect, economic development interest and the existence of sector-based associations, intermediaries and engaged employers.

The CAEL process identifies job families within the target industries and defines the roles, key responsibilities and education requirements of occupations along the career pathway. In addition, CAEL is facilitating ongoing stakeholder discussions to ensure that local realities are reflected to develop strategies, define partner roles and provide CCWI with a blueprint for expanding the work in the future.

We noted the importance of aligning education with workforce requirements. Put another way, it is vital for educators to listen carefully to employers, in order to create curricula which are responsive to existing needs. We at CAEL have been doing that successfully for years.

Energy education initiative

The Energy Providers Coalition for Education, or EPCE – a signature initiative of CAEL – is a group of industry representatives that develops, sponsors and promotes industry-driven, standardised, quality online learning programmes to meet the workforce needs of the energy industry.

EPCE partners with colleges to create an online curriculum for training current and future industry workers that supports clean energy solutions and smart grid deployment. In its nearly 15-year history, more than 5,000 electric power industry workers across a wide range of job categories have furthered their education.

The programmes combine online instruction with both classroom and apprenticeship training. EPCE also built a model to move high school students directly from energy industry coursework into employment and-or into a postsecondary energy industry certificate or degree programme.

Creating win-win situations

We also help industry and adult learners take advantage of trends in consumer needs, in order to grow the economy and provide better, more satisfying jobs. One of our successful recent programmes is aimed at making workers aware of career opportunities and improving their skills as well as helping employers find needed and well trained employees.

CAEL worked with the Colorado Community College System and a consortium of nine Colorado higher education institutions with the goal of developing a pipeline of skilled advanced manufacturing workers.

The result of this project was the Career Action Platform website which includes an industry career map, job pathways and skills crosswalks from related industries, as well as a crosswalk tool that shows veterans how they can apply skills gained in the military to jobs in manufacturing.

CAEL conducted training for college advisors to help them utilise the site. CAEL continues to work on other significant components of the project, including the development of a prior learning portfolio template for advanced manufacturing and working with the consortium to strengthen the colleges’ partnership with the employer community.

These case studies highlight just a small measure of the work that CAEL has been doing for more than 40 years. We believe that we have had a positive impact on employees, employers and the workforce generally, and that the tools we have created can be implemented anywhere in the world to improve local economies and raise standards of living and job satisfaction among workers and their families.

Pamela Tate is president and CEO of the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning, or CAEL. She has become nationally and internationally recognised for her work within the higher education, public and private sectors to make it easier for adults to get the education and training they need to succeed and to remain employable. Among Tate’s numerous professional activities, she currently serves on the board of trustees for Excelsior College, and is a member of the Commission on Quality Assurance and Alternative Higher Education, formed in 2013 by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation.