Home Workforce Development Assessing Employer Needs for Micro-Credentials in Tempe, Arizona
Assessing Employer Needs for Micro-Credentials in Tempe, Arizona

Assessing Employer Needs for Micro-Credentials in Tempe, Arizona


Last week, Rio Salado College and the Tempe Chamber of Commerce announced the release of survey results designed to identify micro-credential educational program options that could benefit businesses in the Tempe area that have been impacted by the Covid pandemic.

On the positive side, most businesses completing the survey indicated an interest in micro credential options. The highest areas of interest were in hard skills programs like sales and marketing operations, front line staff management, customer service, and information technology. In the soft skills area, respondents viewed communication, problem-solving, and leadership as areas of need.

The survey presented businesses with Rio Salado’s eight fields of interest, and respondents were asked to identify all that aligned with their business needs. The chart below includes the results ranked from low to high.

Program fields that aligned with business needs

Local businesses were also asked to identify specific professional skills needs for their businesses and employees. The top responses are indicated in the chart below, ranking from lowest to highest.

professional skills needs for businesses and employees

Fortunately, these areas align directly to some of Rio Salado’s most popular programs. Responses to soft skill needs were approximately 17 percent of all responses with communication, problem-solving, and leadership among the highest areas of need.

Rio Salado and its survey partner, the Tempe Chamber of Commerce, deserve to be congratulated for taking the time to design, distribute, collect, and analyze surveys distributed to businesses in their community.

Tempe’s needs may or may not be representative of micro credential needs in communities across the United States. I noted that the top three skill gap areas identified; sales and marketing operations, front line staff management, and customer service; all require direct interface with customers, a critical need for many businesses during the pandemic.

Rio Salado was careful to define a micro credential as an educational program that was 12 months or less in duration. Based on the survey results, the areas of greatest need appear to be those that could be met with those short-term credentials instead of a degree.

Reports from the National Student Clearinghouse as well as the Department of Education IPEDS indicate that colleges impacted the most during the pandemic were community colleges. The results of this survey indicate that most of the programs valued by businesses are already offered by Rio Salado.

Unlike traditional two-year colleges, Rio Salado has been progressive in offering more than half of its courses and programs online for more than two decades. That said, most of its students are from the state of Arizona and 85 percent are part-time. Without knowing the specifics of its enrollment growth or decline during the pandemic, it appears that Rio should be least impacted by students who decided not to attend in-person classes.

Community colleges have partnered with their local businesses for years. While this survey from Rio Salado is the first that I’ve seen published in a while, it’s encouraging to see this type of cooperation, particularly as it relates to meeting skills and program needs versus educating students with no alignment for the local employers’ needs.

In order to maintain or regain our competitiveness, we need to align our education programs with businesses needs. The needs exceed our current program capacities. I hope to read more of these cooperative surveys in the future.

Wally Boston Dr. Wallace E. Boston was appointed President and Chief Executive Officer of American Public University System (APUS) and its parent company, American Public Education, Inc. (APEI) in July 2004. He joined APUS as its Executive Vice President in 2002. In September 2019, Dr. Boston retired as CEO of APEI and retired as APUS President in August 2020. Dr. Boston guided APUS through its successful initial accreditation with the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association in 2006 and ten-year reaccreditation in 2011. In November 2007, he led APEI to an initial public offering on the NASDAQ Exchange. For four years from 2009 through 2012, APEI was ranked in Forbes' Top 10 list of America's Best Small Public Companies. During his tenure as president, APUS grew to over 85,000 students, 200 degree and certificate programs, and approximately 100,000 alumni. While serving as APEI CEO and APUS President, Dr. Boston was a board member of APEI, APUS, Hondros College of Nursing, and Fidelis, Inc. Dr. Boston was appointed to the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity by the U.S. Secretary of Education in 2019. He also serves as a member of the Board of Advisors of the National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment (NILOA), as a Trustee of The American College of Financial Services, as a member of the board of Our Community Salutes - USA, and as a member and chair of the board of New Horizons Worldwide. He has authored and co-authored papers on the topic of online post-secondary student retention, and is a frequent speaker on the impact of technology on higher education. Dr. Boston is a past Treasurer of the Board of Trustees of the McDonogh School, a private K-12 school in Baltimore. In his career prior to APEI and APUS, Dr. Boston served as either CFO, COO, or CEO of Meridian Healthcare, Manor Healthcare, Neighborcare Pharmacies, and Sun Healthcare Group. Dr. Boston is a Certified Public Accountant, Certified Management Accountant, and Chartered Global Management Accountant. He earned an A.B. degree in History from Duke University, an MBA in Marketing and Accounting from Tulane University’s Freeman School of Business Administration, and a Doctorate in Higher Education Management from the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education. In 2008, the Board of Trustees of APUS awarded him a Doctorate in Business Administration, honoris causa, and, in April 2017, also bestowed him with the title President Emeritus. In August 2020, the Board of Trustees of APUS appointed him Trustee Emeritus. In November 2020, the Board of Trustees announced that the APUS School of Business would be renamed the Dr. Wallace E Boston School of Business in recognition of Dr. Boston's service to the university. Dr. Boston lives with his family in Austin, Texas.


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