Mark Rowh, Dean of Health Sciences at Amarillo College
New realities in the jobs market by employers and new curriculum requirements by the state have spurred Amarillo College to take a new approach to designing its programs. One of those leading the charge is Mark Rowh, dean of health sciences at Amarillo College.
The health sciences field is one of the largest job generators in the Panhandle region of Texas. It’s a field that is constantly changing.
For example, to qualify for a job interview at hospitals, clinics and medical offices in the region, applicants now have to pass a series of tests that measure that person’s ability to perform medical coding and even assess their psychological behaviors just to get in the door for an interview.
“Our employers are looking at the credentials – you have to have the required degree or certificate to apply for a job – but then our employers are testing for what our students can actually do. (Employers) want to know what new employees are bringing into the workplace,” said Rowh. “We are in a tight labor market but the hospitals and clinics in our region are really competitive, they’re trying to get the insurance contracts and patients so they want to know that the students they hire can do the job and be professional.”
To help his students, as well as local industry, Rowh’s department is one of the first one at the college to use the new Detailed Work Activities analysis of skills in demand in the jobs market. The Detailed Work Activities process looks at specific skills in demand for different occupations and is helping education leaders match what they are teaching to help them in their current efforts at curriculum alignment.
“I do care about graduating students; however, we also have to care about our local industry,” Rowh said. “We have to satisfy our advisory board members who come from the local industry and we have to show them how we are responding to local industry demand. The DWA analysis helps us do that. The DWA analysis is helping us satisfy our different audiences.”
For decades, job analysts at the U.S. Department of Labor have been tracking the kinds of tasks that workers in hundreds of occupations perform on the job. In recent years, researchers with the Texas Workforce Commission began categorizing the specific skills required for those tasks and matched those skills with what job postings list as the skills sought. The goal of the Detailed Work Analysis is to create a common language among employers, job seekers and educators – three groups notorious for discussing “skills” in different ways.
In 2013, Texas State Technical College took the next step and created its own Detailed Work Activity analysis program to help colleges analyze how well what they were teaching matched the skills needed for occupations in demand.
“This is data development for decision support,” said Marc Anderberg, chief analyst for the Center for Employability Outcomes at TSTC. “This gets the educators thinking about modular education to give students stackable credentials so they can compete and win jobs out in the real world.”
At Amarillo College, Rowh copied and pasted the learning objectives and class assignments into the Detailed Work Activities program on his computer. Then Anderberg and his team produced the top skills needed to do the job of a pharmacy technician and medical data specialist. Rowh was then able to see the overlap – or lack of overlap – in the curriculum to prepare students for those jobs. By comparing the learning objectives with necessary job skills, Rowh and his faculty are making decisions on what to trim in their curriculum and what to add.
The Detailed Work Activities analysis showed the areas in which Amarillo College’s curriculum is doing a good job of teaching the technical skills and even soft skills associated with doing either of the pharmacy technician and medical data specialist jobs. The DWA analysis also showed the areas in which the curriculum was not completely meeting the skills sought in the marketplace for those jobs.
Because of the analysis, Rowh said he realized that the curriculum was not providing students with enough training in electronic records keeping, medical coding and computer storage experience – all skills now highly sought by potential employers for multiple jobs in the healthcare field. So Rowh and his staff are taking action. They are adjusting the curriculum to add more medical computer training and even creating a new associate’s degree program in health informatics.
Rowh is one of many academic decision makers at Texas colleges who have one year to make some major changes to their curriculum. The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board recently gave community colleges until fall 2015 to get their associate degree programs down to 60 credit hours. Like many colleges, Amarillo College has dealt with changing skill demands by trying to teach its students more, which has resulted in many health science degree programs requiring 70 or more credit hours.
To help meet the challenge, Rowh is also using the DWA analysis to trim and consolidate curriculums. He has high praise for the DWA analysis tools and the information it provides to higher education administrators.
“I liked the ease of the data input. There are some systems out there in higher education that are difficult to access. Sometimes with other systems when you’re trying to simply look at student data on outcomes is especially cumbersome and complicated, we’ll have to grab the talents of a data specialist on campus just to look at that data. But this DWA system was very user friendly, it wasn’t convoluted or complicated at all,” Rowh said.
“This is a very good way to align curriculum across programs and across schools,” Rowh said.
He also points out that incorporating in-demand skills into curriculums is the right thing to do for students, for employers and for the college.
“The pass rates, the graduation rates and the employment rates all culminate together to impact us as far as how we’re doing as a college and our reputation – and all of that is important,” he said.