Colleges tweak offerings to meet job-market needs
BY KAREN HUELSMAN For Sun-Times Media
Triton College student Delfino Tapia of River Grove learns to use a strainer to pour a drink in a beverage management course, a new offering at the college.
Higher education institutions are continually tweaking their course offerings to respond to the needs in the job market, and part of that trend is offering certification or associate degrees in specialties that may not have existed even a decade ago.
The social media specialist continuing education certificate was created at Harper College in Palatine to help prepare students to manage social media marketing programs for their employers. Once social media moved from the darling of the teenager with an ever-changing online profile to a business strategy aimed at consumers, the game changed completely.
“Businesses are looking at social media campaigns and want to ensure they add value to the company,” said Martha Karavitis, computer training coordinator. “We saw that employers were reevaluating the job landscape and wanted somebody on their marketing teams who could use the power of these new tools.”
So the college created a curriculum of six courses that can be completed in four to six months. Most of the current 15 students work in marketing and want to improve their skills, Karavitis said. The program, which started in January, was so popular that the college started up its second series of courses in February.
As social media becomes more sophisticated, it is difficult for individuals to stay current in the latest social media strategies, she said. So the course builds a foundation that businesses can adapt as they see fit. The course is instructor-led and allows for face-to-face discussion.
Meanwhile, as the pace at work moves at warp speed, other programs respond to society’s need to look at what we already have built. At Triton College in River Grove, the new independent building contractor associate degree program encourages students to learn how to rehab and reuse both commercial and residential buildings. The curriculum that started this spring semester combines hands-on courses in the trades as well as financial and managerial classes to help the small business owner succeed.
The curriculum includes a focus on energy efficiency and the use of renewable and sustainable resources and how those factors play into the rehabbing business, said William Griffin, coordinator of the college’s accounting and business department who oversees the new curriculum.
“While new construction remains slow, we see that there is always a need for remodeling work,” Griffin said. “This credential will give students a leg up in this niche market.”
And after all of that hard work, Triton officials also recognized that people want to reward themselves with a nice meal and a cocktail now and then. To that end, the school’s 40-year-old hospitality program this spring introduced a beverage management certificate.
“Entertainment isn’t going to go away; it’s just changing a bit, including better service at lower price points,” said Thomas Robertson, beverage instructor and a certified sommelier himself. “As the industry adjusts, we are filling the need for servers at midprice restaurants to be educated to help guide the customers. We train students to become ‘table-side concierges’ who are able to advise patrons about the foods and drinks available.”
The certificate includes a basic sommelier course and a food and wine pairing course, and dovetails with the curriculum in the hospitality industry administration program.
“I think having an educated serving staff makes any restaurant more competitive,” Robertson said, and that’s why owners will want to hire employees with this certificate.
Meanwhile, four-year universities are responding with high-need bachelor’s degree completion programs and certificates in new areas of specialized knowledge.
The nontraditional enrollment department at Benedictine University in Lisle supports students who are unemployed or underemployed while they get the skills they need to advance their careers. Hicela Woods, director of that program, said the university is seeing a surge in students who have completed nursing school, but do not have a Bachelor of Science in Nursing.
“In spite of the nursing shortage, hospitals prefer to hire BSNs,” she said.
Other programs are aimed at students who have some college credits and need upper-level business courses to complete a degree.
“These students can choose from classes at night, on the weekends or online to meet their needs,” she said.
And adult programs use a “cohort” model, which fosters group support.
“I have heard so many adults say they couldn’t have completed their degrees without the motivation they got from their peers,” Woods said.
At the University of Illinois at Chicago, certification programs are put together for those seeking an additional graduate-level credential.
“These may be people who still need specific knowledge, but don’t necessarily need another degree,” said Cordelia Maloney, executive director of the UIC School of Continuing Studies.
Because the university is so well-established in the health sciences, many of the certificates focus on that area. For example, the administrative nursing leadership certificate program attracts experienced nurses who have been promoted to management but lack formal training in leadership, she said.
Health care analytics and patient safety are burgeoning areas where several existing university courses can help those already in the health field pick up the skills they need to stay current.
“Certificates respond to the need for professionals to take on new responsibilities in emerging areas,’’ she said. “Right now the federal government is very interested in using analytics to control health care costs,’’ she said. “Patient safety and related ethical issues are an emerging field too, so we developed certificates to address all of those areas.”
Typically, certificates group together existing courses at UIC, so the programs can be up and running more quickly than an entirely new degree curriculum.
“These are nimble credentials, and we try as a state institution to make them as accessible to students as possible,” Maloney said.
She said many certificates can be fully or partially completed online, which makes them attractive to working adults.
Karen Huelsman is a local freelance writer.