TechEd Frontiers offers short-term learning opportunities to fill skills gap

New technology is quickly changing the workplace, leaving employers struggling to keep their employees up to date.

The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee is addressing this need for “upskilling” by launching TechEd Frontiers, a workforce development learning platform that offers online, on-demand pathways, or courses, that can advance people in high-demand jobs. The self-paced, incremental learning format is affordable and convenient for people who are working.

“This is really aimed at closing skills gaps,” UWM Vice Provost Phyllis King said. “Employers say people don’t have certain skills or competencies, and the pathways offered by TechEd Frontiers can give people those skills in a very short amount of time.”

Each learning pathway consists of a series of short modules that are each focused on acquisition of a specific skill and may equip the learner to take industry certification exams.

A screenshot from our Data Analytics and Visualization course site shows a frame from an instructional video demonstrating how to create a stacked line chart in Excel.

An electronic badge is awarded following the successful completion of topics covered by the modules, and a pathway badge is awarded after completion of all modules in the pathway. These micro-credentials can be stacked together in a sequence that could even lead to college credits. Learners also have access to online success coaches to help them apply the learning to their workplace.

“The TechEd Frontiers pathways help employers retain talent, while also helping workers ‘future-proof’ their careers,” King said. “It’s less expensive for employers to grow their own talent internally than to try to find it outside the company.”

TechEd Frontiers leverages UWM’s status as a leader in online education and a top research institution to offer industry-validated learning. UWM faculty incorporate cutting-edge content into the design of modules, making the lessons distinct from and more relevant than other upskilling programs.

The platform also gives individual companies the opportunity to customize the content of the modules.

“We can co-create the modules with the industry partners,” King said, “taking some case studies from the company and embedding them into the modules that the students are using to provide real-world examples and applied learning experiences.”

Two pathways – one in data analytics and visualization, the other in cybersecurity – have recently launched with input from the TechEd Frontiers Industry Advisory Council, which includes a cross-section of employers such as Microsoft, Northwestern Mutual, Manpower Group, Rockwell Automation and others.

Industry partners want courses and topics that are more applicable to current workplace experience, King said.

“We’re currently building the pathways with companies who want to offer them to their employees,” King said, “but we intend to build them for direct-to-consumer use in the future. We also aim to add advanced levels of the pathways we already offer.”

In addition to working people interested in upskilling, TechEd Frontiers would be useful to people who have been laid off and are seeking new skills, and people coming out of high school who want to look at basic skills acquisition in tech.

Eventually, the platform could be developed in fields such as digital supply chain, heath care business analytics, cloud computing and health care informatics.

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