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Reflections on the future Featured

5:11am EDT July 19, 2002

Employers nationwide continue to bemoan the stark truth that there is a dearth of skilled employees. Adult training and education has been -- and promises to be -- one of the biggest issues to tackle.

"The valuable employee is going to be the educated employee," explains Arnold Tew, who is intimately acquainted with the needs of the adult student.

For 33 years, at Cleveland State University and then as president of David N. Myers College, he was involved in training adults to enter the work force.

At Myers, he concentrated on bringing the school to the forefront of adult and interactive electronic learning. SBN Magazine sat down with Tew to reflect on what his experience has taught him, and what employers can learn from it.

You recently developed a one-year MBA program at Myers. What are the requirements, and how is it working?

The MBA traditionally has been a two-year program. But if people had an undergraduate degree and had experience, it made sense to structure a one-year program. The requirement is that people bring five years business experience, have a decent undergraduate average and have a major in business administration.

It is now 1 year old and about 30 (people) have completed their degrees. We are getting students that would otherwise not go back for their MBA.

What other innovations has Myers made to assist the adult learning skills?

For the last six years, (Myers) really has gotten a head start in online learning. We've been doing it for a while at the undergraduate level, and we now offer the MBA online. Now it is possible to get an MBA totally online. Someone could earn an MBA while in Stuttgart (Germany). Last year, 200 of our 1,200 students were enrolled in online courses.

That doesn't mean that they were exclusively online, but they chose to take some of the courses online. Students that have a computer and an ISP register for classes and draw down their assignments. The assignments are on the Web, they go to the assignments and, depending on the instructor, sometimes have problems (to solve), lectures, references to book material and hotlinks to sites where people can go to and look at the information.

What students are best suited for the online classes?

They are targeted for working adults and people who are on the road and can't keep regular classes or are on time constraints (and) need to be able to study at their time rather than at a scheduled time. What online learning has done is to give us a tool that (previously) we were substituting correspondence for. The Web brings much more immediacy to the learning experience.

Do you ever see online education replacing the traditional classroom?

It is too early for any of us to know that. In the National Education Press, people are talking about whether online in the long run will bring a change to the core of the college experience. For the 18-year-old college age student in the U.S., college is seen as a whole culturating experience, a socializing experience.

It's hard to imagine that online education is going to replace that. Twenty-five years ago, everybody thought that TV and film would replace the classroom. For life-long learning, online may replace the seminar, continuing education and the CLE experience. It is clear that we have to keep relearning skills throughout our careers.

Do you see employee training and learning getting more specific in the future?

It is happening already. It is happening with the whole Microsoft Network Engineer Training and even at levels way below that if you look at the Microsoft certification for Office that people are bringing to the workplace. I'm certain that is going to develop in more and more areas. People will bring specific skills certificates, too.

That is separate from the issue and education and the whole tension between education and training that goes on. There is real tension between the need to provide for the job market and the need to provide education for life and to provide education for career. In my 42 years in higher education, I've just had to relearn so much and pick up whole new sets of skills that when I started, nobody dreamed about. That is going to continue accelerating.

How do you see this affecting the employee/employer relationship?

We are on the cusp of a new situation with the economy looking to do what it seems to be doing. There has been an increase in employer flexibility; getting people to come to work. It will change only for the short-run.

In the long run, the valuable employee is going to be an educated employee. If the educated employee is a woman with children, the employers are going to make compromises that they never dreamed of before in order to keep a skilled professional.

What skills will employees need to have in the future?

You need a way to be able to change direction as the business world changes, and only educated people are going to be able to do that. An educated work force gives a corporation a better chance at learning its next wave of tasks. That is what we have been seeing happen in the business world in the last few years.

There has been enough movement that people recognize that you have to be able to stop and turn quickly. To do that, you need a highly sensitive group of employees who not only understand what they have to learn to do, but why.

One of the problems is that some of the employers want to define training narrowly, and don't see that an educated work force works for them. How to reach: David N. Myers College, 216-696-9000

Kim Palmer (kpalmer@sbnnet.com) is managing editor of SBN Magazine.