I sat down with John Shrader, GM and Executive Vice President at Penn Foster, to pick his brain about the intersections of education, workforce development, and talent management. We discussed implications for the future evolution of these industries alongside the growth of education technology, and why this will change the way we learn and work.

Q1: How do you see Workforce Development changing in the coming years?

A: I see Workforce Development becoming more immediate and mostly skills-driven. In the past, individuals were limited in terms of their options for getting skilled up; schooling took years. At the end of those years, it didn't always mean the outcome would be a job. Today, we have a much more mobile workforce. "Mobile' meaning employees moving from job to job more easily. In order to do that, an employee has to find learning opportunities to increase their skillset and effectiveness on the job.

Now, we're exploring how to use the medium of technology to do that - technology to leverage learning. This combination allows for us to respond to and enable the mobile workforce to skill up and advance much easier, much faster, and with much better outcomes.

Q2: Can you speak to the intersection of education, talent management, and employers?

A: Technology is what binds these three entities together. First, technology can act as the leverage to enhance an educational path for someone. Second, Talent Management Systems (integrated software) manage the components of an individual's growth and career development. And third, employers can leverage assets to increase the knowledge capital of the organization through the use of technology. At the end of the day, the head of a company wants to increase revenue and reduce costs. If you have a faster, smarter employee base, as well as the right kinds of systems in place to help manage talent efficiently, employers can further enhance this process through technology - by making learning mobile, for example, so that employee education is not restricted to a classroom.

Q3: What do you think the next generation of Human Capital Management looks like?

A: It will be massive. It will need to be responsive to a very mobile population. People are now constantly shifting careers, moving around, and working remotely. Where you live is becoming less of a relevant factor considered in the workforce. The intersection of the mobile workforce with content-leveraging technology presents us with a huge opportunity. Learning isn't dependent on classrooms anymore. That said, edtech providers will still have to provide a "surround-sound' of services, or the human interactions component of servicing students. In order to satisfy a learner's education needs, they will still need to be able to talk to an instructor to ask questions, receive feedback, and access skills reflection.

Q4: What kinds of opportunities do you think will be made available due to labor market changes in the coming years, in terms of the front-line sector (QSR, retail, hospitality)?

A:  Minimum wage is already increasing in certain parts of the country, which will drive the need for a skilled market. Labor laws that have just come out will force better pay for folks managing stores, and will compensate employees for overtime. That said, people will soon realize that in order to access these benefits, they will need new skills, certifications, and to get better faster. This is where the opportunity for the online component comes into play. With additional general labor market changes, we also have the fact that technology will automate more jobs in the QSR space, which will impact hourly workers. These employees will be motivated to pursue upskilling in order to apply for other roles.

Q5: What excites you about new technologies and innovations in e-learning and learning management systems?

A: Technology allows us to reach an ever-increasing mobile learner. The modality, the ways lessons can be presented by 'chunking' content in brief bursts, is now a major way we present educational materials for today's mobile learner. Also the student experience; there's so much more we can do today than we ever could. We can learn from watching videos, and that isn't even a big deal anymore! It's one thing to have a diagram in a textbook of how a lawnmower works, but a completely different thing to have a "how-to' video showing you how it works. The advent of PDFs as an interactive experience will only accelerate too. The capabilities of technology and online learning is so powerful not only because it has immediate application, but global access creates another modality by speaking to different types of learners.

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