Paul Potier, professor of electronics and advanced technologies at Austin Community College
Austin Community College is under pressure to make its curriculum more efficient while also adding new training to make its degree programs more effective. ACC’s Department of Electronics and Advanced Technologies also needs to do this quickly.
ACC’s Department of Electronics and Advanced Technologies is one of a handful of colleges departments that is using the Skilled Outcomes Analysis tool developed by C4EO, which is a new software tool that uses the Detailed Work Activities methodology to identify which class curriculums overlap with the skills demand by employers.
“This is a way to provide some metrics on ‘goodness of fit’ and how well we’re doing at training our workforce,” said Paul Potier, professor of electronics and advanced technologies at ACC. “I have not seen data and analysis like this before.”
ACC’s electronics and advanced technologies faculty wanted to be early adopters of the new methods to show the connections between curriculum training and marketable skills. And there may be more need for this at other colleges.
“We’re calling it competency-based curriculum alignment,” said Michael Bettersworth, associate vice chancellor at Texas State Technical College, which invested more than a year building the Skilled Outcomes Analysis tools to help college leaders.
“Our main focus is to improve student employability,” Bettersworth said. “This is about helping education leaders uncover ways to create job-driven curriculum.”
Many of the associate’s degree programs in electronics and advanced technologies at ACC require 63 to 71 credit hours. But the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board has mandated colleges to reduce that to 60 credit hours. Professor Potier has to do that for the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board while also answering to the demands for more skills training made by the industry executives who sit on ACC’s advisory board.
The analysis of ACC’s advanced technologies classes showed levels of overlap between the school’s curriculum and the rankings of skills needed for high-growth/high-demand jobs like industrial technician, numeric tool & process control programmer, electro-mechanical technician, and electrical engineering technician.
“One of the biggest benefits of the Detailed Work Activities will be the ability for our department is to make data-driven decisions regarding our teaching emphasis,” Potier said.
“The very nice categorization really appeals to my project management sense of order,” Potier said. “I prefer to make decisions on what to teach based on this national and state data from the Detailed Work Activities analysis rather than on anecdotal evidence. One of the biggest benefits will be the ability to make data-driven decisions.”
ACC electronics and advanced technologies staff are also trying to go a step beyond. They are trying to better understand the future.
Potier and his fellow faculty knows from their contacts in industry and their own time spent working in the private sector that a growing occupation is robot technicians, which is an undefined occupation— for now. They are looking at the Detailed Work Activities analysis to see the most in-demand skills across multiple occupations. If they can modify his curriculum around those most in-demand skills, then his advanced technologies program graduates can be ready for the robot technician jobs and other jobs of the future.
“The Detailed Work Activities data is very good and quantify a lot of things for us. It’s a good guideline for what skills we need to focus on in the classroom,” Potier said. “This is a way to provide some metrics on ‘goodness of fit’ and how well we’re doing at training our workforce.”
He was surprised that the data analysis even broke down hard skills and soft skills.
“Overall, the data made sense with both technical skills and soft skills,” Potier said. “It is not a surprise, considering that what we’re hearing from employers is that the development of a student’s technical skills is as important as their soft skills. Do the students get along and really work with other people? Employers want to know if our graduates can play well in the sandbox, and that makes sense based on my experience in industry: you don’t always have to be the smartest guy at work to get ahead, but you have to be able to work with others, get along with others and have empathy.”
For ACC, Potier is working with his administrators at incorporating the skills analysis to make some curriculum modifications.
For Texas State Technical College, Bettersworth is now working with his administration to roll out analysis tools through the new Center For Employment Outcomes, which is also known as C4EO.
“We believe it is best to ensure that what students are doing in the classroom is relevant to what employers want,” Bettersworth said. “These tools are helping colleges use evidence-based analysis to ensure that what’s being taught in the classroom is relevant to what’s needed on the job. Education leaders want this. They also want this kind of information in an easily understandable form and in a way that helps them move quickly to keep pace which a changing education and workforce marketplace.”