Designing Programs for the Millennial Workforce

After experiencing a half decade of un- and underemployment, Millennials are turning to continuing education units to secure employable skills through affordable, fast-paced programs. Millennial enrollments are especially high at COE units in urban areas, where leaders report the average continuing education is 25 or 26 years old—down from an average age of mid-30s just a few years ago.

For many, "Millennial" brings to mind a teenager or college student, but the oldest of the U.S.' 80 million Millennials are turning 35 this year. They are quickly becoming the mid-career professionals COE leaders are used to serving.

Expected to have 20 jobs over the course of a lifetime and more burdened with student loan debt than any other generation, Millennials are finding it both financially and professionally impractical to invest in lengthy, costly master's degrees. Instead, many are choosing short-format certificates that give them the most critical skills they need to advance in a faster timeframe and at a lower cost.

Although many COE units include certificates among the programs in their portfolios, many COE leaders struggle to position their programs effectively to prospective students and employers. This study examines three types of non-degree programs that serve three distinct types of Millennials.

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The Challenge: Designing Programs for the Millennial Workforce

For many COE units, Millennials are becoming a top of-mind student segment. In exploring how the Recession continues to affect young college graduates, a few concerning facts came to light. First, upwards of 30% of some graduating classes are either unemployed or underemployed; second, the effects of the recession are worst for students who graduated at its height. A student who graduated in 2009 is less likely to have a lucrative job than their younger sibling who graduated in 2013 or 2014. Enrollments are skewing younger as millions of un- and underemployed recent college graduates seek to improve their employment prospects.

These recent graduates realized after a few years that their current bachelor’s degree was not landing their desired job, and now they are enrolling in droves. This is especially true for institutions in urban areas with large populations of young adults.

Millennials will have up to 20 jobs over the course of a lifetime, nearly twice as many as the average Baby Boomer. Millennials are also more burdened with student debt than any other generation, about $30,000 per person, on average. Due to high job turnover and mounting debt, it is becoming both financially and professionally impractical to invest in lengthy and costly graduate degrees.

Many Millennials are already choosing certificates over advanced degrees. Graduate certificate conferrals have grown faster than master’s degree conferrals in the last five years, and that data does not even include non-credit conferrals.

For COE leaders, Millennials and certificates are inextricably linked. Institutions seeking to grow non-degree portfolios need to be serving Millennials, and Millennial-serving institutions need to invest in short-format, non-degree programs. Learn more.

Solutions to serve the Millennial workforce

Section 1: Accelerated Leadership Programs for Millennial Career Advancers
In the current environment, in which there are few jobs and unprecedented expectations for an applicant, the "T-Shaped Professional" is most likely to thrive. This model gained attention in industry journals and argues that the “ideal” employee has a breadth of skills in universally demanded fields like management and has mastered a skill, process, product, or body of knowledge. In other words, the ideal employee can work with many different types of people and is the best on his or her team at something. Both universities and companies have started to adopt this concept. Learn more.

Section 2: Enhanced Enrichment Courses for Early Encore Careers
The shift towards self-employment indicates that the "encore career" is no longer confined to adults in their 50s and 60s. Millennials refuse to wait until retirement to pursue a job they are passionate about or to work a schedule that allows for more family time. Instead, this generation seeks to launch their encore careers in their late 20s or early 30s. Learn more.

Section 3: Offline Intensives for Tomorrow’s Business Owners
Early encore career seekers and tomorrow's business owners express similar motivations for opting out of a structured workplace. Both groups are driven by a desire to pursue their passion, by the revival of the artisan economy, and often, by a lack of opportunities in established fields and organizations.

However, if early encore career seekers "work to live," tomorrow's business owners "live to work." Unlike early encore career seekers, fledgling business owners will sacrifice their personal time and energy for future business success. They do not only want to support themselves, but also want to build and perhaps sell an enterprise that employs multiple people. Learn more.

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