ASU+GSV 2022 Day 1: Building an opportunity ecosystem for working adult learners

Guild is proud to be a Sponsor Partner of the 2022 ASU+GSV Summit. In honor of the summit’s spirit of shared learning, Guild has launched this three-day blog series in which we share key learnings and daily takeaways from ASU+GSV.

Healthy ecosystems are balanced. When each member of an ecosystem uniquely contributes and benefits, the result is a sustainable environment in which all can thrive. 

Opportunity in a social mobility context works in a similar way: To address a workforce imbalance in which talent is evenly distributed but opportunity is not, organizations, employers, and learning providers with aligned missions must partner to collaboratively create an environment that broadens access to opportunity. For American workers, this means employers that invest in development aligned with well-articulated, upwardly-mobile pathways, learning providers that design to help them demonstrate the skills and competencies needed for growth and advancement, and thoughtful, structured support along the way. In short: an ecosystem of opportunity.

Done right, these collaborations are powerful. They have the capacity to drive social mobility and also contribute actionable solutions to help address some of the world’s most urgent social, environmental, health, and economic issues. During the first day of this year’s ASU+GSV Summit, leading future of work and learning experts from Guild and our partners discussed ways an ecosystem of opportunity can work to drive social mobility for working adult learners.

A shared culture of opportunity can propel sustainable outcomes that benefit everyone. 

One of the most urgent and future-defining challenges of our time is addressing climate change. As new technologies, practices, and interventions emerge to address this challenge, so too does the need for talented workers to scale the impact of solutions —and the right education and equitable growth opportunities to make those solutions sustainable. In a session focused on ways that upskilling America’s workforce can help address climate change, Guild’s Vice President of Learning Partnerships, Mark Rudnick, moderated a panel of four employer and learning partner experts to explore what it means to collaborate within a shared mission to help working adult learners access upwardly-mobile, sustainability-centric roles. The resulting conversation highlighted multiple tenets of a culture of opportunity, and what they look like in practice:

  • Education is foundational to growth and sustainability.

Candice Jeffery, Senior Director of Learning and Talent Management at Sunrun, explained how a growing need for solar jobs, coupled with an awareness of the impact innovation can have on what those jobs look like, spurred the initial interest in investing more deeply to help employees upskill. “Today’s jobs didn’t exist yesterday,” she explained.  “It’s anticipated there will be over 900,000 solar jobs by 2035. That in conjunction with the growth we anticipate at Sunrun means we need a robust program that upskills our people.” Jeffery shared that 34% of Sunrun’s eligible population is on the Guild platform, indicating a clear desire among employees to grow their skillsets: “Education is important for our organizational growth, and it’s important on an individual level for our talent,” she said.

Sunrun partnered with Guild to address a need for 200 certified electricians across multiple states amid a growing industry shortage, working with Penn Foster Education Group to put a certified electrician program in place to help entry-level solar panel installers access certification and with it, the opportunity to pursue an upwardly-mobile career path. Penn Foster prioritized understanding Sunrun’s specific needs for its specific roles, and brought the expertise needed to meet different states’ licensure requirements while maintaining commonality in a learning approach that includes both technical and on-the-job training. —To date, around 150 employees have signed up.

  • Responding effectively to evolving skilling needs requires strong feedback loops.

Dara Warn, President of Career Business at Penn Foster Education Group, pointed out that the ubiquity of climate change impacts everyone, and as different actors work to address an aging infrastructure in need of replacement, there are new types of jobs. However, institutions can’t assume that the same job title today means the same job description from last year. “We look for the jobs in demand and identify skill layers under those jobs,” she explained.  “—A title only tells you so much. What do you need to become a solar tech or HVAC tech today? The skills needed for those jobs are different now than they were five to 10 years ago, but the title isn’t.” 

By creating a closed loop that includes tight feedback on delivery, skills trends, and learner profiles, Penn Foster can change instructional design and ensure content stays updated and relevant to the working adult learners it serves.

Feedback in an opportunity ecosystem flows in multiple directions among partners. Jeffery clarified that just as learning providers rely on insights into in-demand skills from employers, employers also rely on insights from learning providers to understand ways to better enable success for their employees as learners: “We need benchmarking. We need to reach out to understand: what are other employers doing? How should I be thinking about this? What are students looking for, how do we need to design things on our side? And we’re not afraid to give feedback; two-way communication is important.”

From left to right: Mark Rudnick, Shweta Kurvey-Mishra, Candice Jeffery, Lisa Templeton, Dara Warn

  • Education must have the agility to meet shifting student needs & the flexibility to incorporate diverse interests.

In addition to understanding trends, institutions must be agile enough to quickly adjust to shifting skilling needs. Lisa Templeton, Associate Provost at Oregon State University (OSU) Ecampus said faculty with expertise in environmental issues working in concert with instructional designers who are experts in online learning has helped enable the agility necessary to keep content up-to-date and aligned with learner needs. 

Equally important is equipping every student with the opportunity to apply their unique talents and interests toward solving environmental issues —regardless of the field they’re working in. Templeton shared that OSU Ecampus offers a sustainability double degree in which students focused on business, art, engineering, or another field can simultaneously earn a degree in sustainability. “It can prepare students to be agents of positive change irrespective of industry,” she explained, “We need people who think sustainably in every career. Not just scientists.” Ecampus also offers an individual speciality option (ISO) that empowers students to tailor their learning to their interests. She gave an example of a working adult learner, Ray, who is currently employed in a sanitation role and earning a contracting license. Ray is particularly interested in equity and land sustainability in Black communities, and leveraged ISO to combine social justice with environmental studies. 

  • A culture of opportunity fuses mission and business.

Shweta Kurvey-Mishra, Vice President, Org & Talent Development at WM characterizes mission and business not as a balancing act, but as intrinsically inclusive. She recounted a conversation between a driver and a senior executive who accompanied him on his route in a trash truck that illustrates the “why” behind WM’s recent decision to extend its education benefit to dependents of employees. The driver remarked that although he loved his job, made a good living, and could care for his family, one thing that kept him up at night was figuring out how he was going to put his five children through college. He wanted to save them from taking on student debt. WM’s policy decision to extend tuition-free tuition to dependents made that aspiration possible. 

By doing the right thing for employees, WM was also able to create a critical differentiation to attract more talented workers and inspire them to retain. “They can see we care about them and their families,” Kurvey-Mishra explained. “We have almost 11,000 folks who have created a Guild profile, or started an education, and are bettering themselves for their current jobs and for the future, creating value in ways that a paycheck alone could not account for.”

Competency-Based Education helps higher education institutions contribute to a balanced opportunity ecosystem by optimizing for learners’ needs.

Sometimes cultivating balance in an ecosystem means intentionally inverting elements that create and perpetuate imbalance. In a panel on Competency-Based Education (CBE) moderated by Dr. Lisa McIntyre-Hite, Vice President of Learning Innovation at Guild, Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) President Paul LeBlanc explained that the traditional curriculum design process must be inverted to ensure that students gain the mastery they need to unlock mobility:

When we think about traditional curriculum, we often think about, what am I teaching, what is the content, what is the textbook, what are my modules or sequencing, what will I do for outcomes and then how will I assess it? With CBE it’s a reversal. We start with what do we want the outcomes to be, what do we want them to be able to do–and then knowledge works backward from there.”

Competency-Based Education is predicated on a growth mindset for both students and faculty. Assessments are developed as learning processes, rather hurdles for students to clear and then keep moving. If it becomes clear through assessment that a student hasn’t gained mastery of a skill or concept, instructors utilize different tools and teaching modes to help students keep working at the assessment until they get it. 

In an unbalanced ecosystem, access to necessary resources is unevenly distributed, resulting in disparities that favor some and disadvantage others. Conversely, balanced ecosystems are defined by well-aligned, collaborative partnerships that provide a net benefit to all contributors. Rather than relying on metered transactions, they generate a continuous cycle of contribution and evolution. As more organizations, employers, and learning providers see that the future of work and the future of learning are parts of a whole, collaborators with a shared commitment to drive social mobility have an unprecedented opportunity to define what our shared future will look like, together.

Guild is on a mission to unlock opportunity for the 88 million Americans who are in need of education and reskilling in order to compete in the future of work. If you’re interested in working with us, please contact our team here.