Could and Supercharge Workforce Development Connections? A bridge between the #studentforce2workforce

By Gordon Freedman, National Laboratory for Education Transformation

Gordon Freedman is President of the National Laboratory for Education Transformation (, a California-based 501(c)(3) non-profit committed to transforming 20th century education and training into 21st century learning. Prior to NLET, Freedman was Vice President of Global Education Strategy for Blackboard, Inc.

Millions of mid-skills jobs are open across the nation. Unfortunately, bringing awareness about these job openings to jobseekers is not easy. Even more difficult is finding approved occupational training that aligns with the specific hiring needs of these employers. Could the powerful CRM and LMS companies like Salesforce and Blackboard provide the necessary information-age linkage?

Today, despite historically low official unemployment rates, there are still six million people unemployed, two million of whom are between the ages of 16 and 24. Youth employment is essentially stalled, and it is at a near standstill for youth impacted by poverty and other socioeconomic determinants.

When unemployment drops, it puts pressure on all sectors of the economy. As demand for employees steadily increases, this need does not automatically pull more young people or unemployed adults into the workforce. Instead, it puts wage pressure on employers by allowing people already employed to argue for higher pay or switch jobs.

This is the new norm that causes wages to rise but does not address the labor shortage. What the country needs now is for new people to enter the labor force who are trained to fill vacancies that otherwise slow down regional and national economic progress.

However, many of the six million open jobs are representative of the new technical economy, which for many is an unfamiliar world made up of skilled and mid-skilled jobs that only recently came into existence. The only way to obtain many of these jobs is to first know about them and secondly to be trained for them.

Where are the people who could be available for training to fill the new jobs?

They are the longer-term unemployed, people who aged out of previous work, or they are young and new to work. The good news is that many of these jobs do not require a college degree. The bad news is that hardly anyone knows about them, or once a job possibility is located, where does one go to get the specific training that regional employers are looking for?

Two Problems in the Labor Market: Awareness and Alignment

While there is limited public awareness of new forms of skilled and mid-skilled employment, there is even less awareness that the necessary training is often available as close as the nearest community college.

So, how does someone seeking training for a relatively unknown, well-paying, mid-skilled job know where to find that training, and then whether employers have actually approved this training? The answer is they don’t know, and there is no “easy” way to find out. There are official sites and myriads of ads online, but these are awkward mechanisms at best; many are overly bureaucratic and difficult to navigate or understand.

There are no apps for “find new skill-based jobs” or “find appropriate skill-based training” that would link a jobseeker to one of the 1,000 or so community colleges that have occupational programs that may or may not align with employer needs. That’s not to say that community colleges do not work in earnest to make these matches, as do regional job centers. But none of these options is as functional as Facebook.

Employers have the reverse problem. They cannot “easily” find appropriately-trained job candidates, or community colleges and other training organizations that will meet their specific needs in a timely manner. While employers and community colleges do communicate, often that is all they do. There is hardly any data-based technology to bridge the world of jobseekers to the world of training and then to the world of work.

There are plenty of venture-backed start-ups trying make matches between people, training and jobs, and there are plenty of well-funded important foundation projects promoting awareness and preparation for skill-based work. However, most are either small, non-standards based or primarily face-to-face programs not backed by sufficient data and ways to communicate into the popular info-sphere.

The federal government, through the US Department of Labor, attempted to solve the alignment problem with a $1.9 billion program (TAACCCT) aimed at better communication and working relations between community colleges and regional employers. While this has helped, there was no code written or apps produced to help span this chasm. The available work is largely unknown regionally and nationally despite the enormous size of the effort and the number of community colleges and employers involved.

Are the Jobseekers, Community Colleges and Employers Stuck in Separate Camps? 

There appears to be no easy solution to create tools like those we use in everyday life and work that can make “matches” and “recommendations” linking those seeking work with training and employers who need trained workers.

Our nonprofit, The National Laboratory for Education Transformation (, works tirelessly on this issue, trying to imageing software or apps that would provide a digital and social mechanism to bridge these gaps and put people back to work.

Creating new solutions for traditional players in the community college sector and working with HR departments in large employers, or hiring personnel in small employers is a long, drawn-out process involving institutional and organizational transformation.

Are there other ways that could organically link employers with community colleges or other occupational training program providers, and provide a way to attract jobseekers or up-skillers?

It might be the case that there are some very large corporate players who could bridge the education-to-work yawning gap. Two types of technology companies come to mind: those that separately supply both the community colleges and the employers with Customer Relations Management (CRM) solutions and Learning Management System (LMS) solutions.

CRMs help manage relationships in organizations in relationship to productivity. LMSs manage learning progression and connected student services in education and training institutions, and to a limited degree, in employee training.

The market leader in CRM is Salesforce; the market leader in LMS is Both serve employers and colleges, but separately. In the modern world, employers and colleges could easily be linked and benefit a jobseeker or ladder climber in the middle.

Rolling Out the Titans

Last week I attended the Salesforce company’s Dreamforce conference in San Francisco with nearly 170,000 others, making it the largest tech conference on Earth.

Salesforce is one of the fastest growing companies in the world. It offers a unique customer relations management cloud service that primarily allows businesses to manage an array of data tracking, from employee activities to managing sales and other aspects of modern companies. Salesforce is 326th on the Fortune 500 list with 25,000 employees, 150,000 customers and quickly growing revenues north of $8 billion annually. Many people reading this post likely work in companies or organizations using Salesforce to chart their personal progress.

Salesforce is a generous employer and company. CEO Mark Benioff is a leader among the Silicon Valley titans in meaningful philanthropy. This extends to education and training where he established a foundation to offer deeply-discounted Salesforce solutions to nonprofits and education institutions through

Early in the company’s history, provided software to education institutions and nonprofits interested in applying CRM technology to better manage the diverse silos on campus or in foundations. Today, there are very robust versions of Salesforce being used to connect all aspects of institutional education; most importantly, to help chart the student journey. Some of the largest brand names in higher education are revolutionizing campus life with Salesforce, including Arizona State and the University of Texas system and virtual providers like the Western Governors University and many more.

Where Salesforce technology could make a profound difference is by bringing their .com and .org institutions together to build the education-to-work linkages. The two divisions of Salesforce — .com and .org — don’t generally cross paths. Yet, Salesforce technology could be used to provide a powerful education-to-work or work-to-education bridge program between regional employers using and regional community college occupational programs using

The “bridge,” or training network, going in one direction would allow employees with an account on both sites to explore training directly related to improving their position in their company or organization. This would encourage the employers and colleges to better align training to employment demand.

Conversely, for unemployed, disconnected youth and returning adult workers, a community college could enroll them in a regional “occupational bridge” where they can view available courses and programs that link to existing open jobs using Behind the scenes, through the occupational bridge, the colleges and employers could be actively aligning training and employment needs.

The same is true for Their solutions are widely used in community colleges for academic and occupational courses and, additionally, for training employees in some of the largest employers. Yet, gain, these are separate divisions that do work hand-in-hand. Could there be a way to facilitate finding work or finding better work by linking the occupational programs delivered on Blackboard with training provided by employers using Blackboard?


The Future of Educational Technology: Why Edtech is Still Ignoring Its Biggest Market – Research ($70b)

This article was published in Forbes in August 2016 by,
Svetlana Dotsenko; coauthored with, Thomas Hwang.   

Educational technology is booming. Technology is helping to redefine how we learn, obtain skills, and get credentialed. That value proposition has captured public attention and attracted record amounts of venture capital funding.

But the vision for edtech is, and should be, much broader. After all, the education market serves not only to instruct but also to invent. And educational technology can transform the “other half” of this equation by streamlining the research process.

The need for research innovation is arguably strongest at universities. Higher education is a vast market, in no small part due to the research enterprise. Last year, universities in the U.S. received nearly $70 billion in funding for research in science and the humanities, of which most was from the federal government. Funding for academic research is also growing rapidly internationally, such as in China, whose total research and development spending is now second only to the U.S

research3Despite the scale of this research engine, technological progress has been slow to reach the mechanics of scholarly progress. Many facultymembers report spending as much time on research as they do on administrative tasks. A commissioned review of the University of California Los Angeles pointed out that the university spends about a billion dollars a year on research but lacks a “formal, guiding technology strategy for research administration.”

In aggregate, administrative inefficiencies impose burdens on researchers. It diverts time and attention from more productive activities; it delays experiments and raises the costs of doing research. There are roughly a million faculty and academic researchers in the U.S. – which means reclaiming even one hour every week from admin by using technology would be worth trillions of dollars annually.

Improving research efficiency could also accelerate scientific progress. For example, academic research plays a vital role in the discovery of many innovative medicines, contributing to over 150 FDA-approved drugs and vaccines over the past 40 years. More time spent on research, rather than administrative tasks, could speed the discovery of new breakthroughs, such as the revolutionary cancer drug imatinib (Gleevec; developed based on work at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Oregon Health & Science University) and the HIV drug abacavir (Ziagen; discovered at the University of Minnesota).

How can technology improve research? Here are a few examples of where the impact of technology could be most meaningful.

Building Research Teams: Attracting Human Capital

Finding and training research personnel is time-consuming and costly. Indeed, despite the fact that there are nearly half a million incoming graduate students and overresearch6 a hundred thousand doctorates minted each year in the United States, there is often a mismatch between this supply of qualified trainees and the needs of researchers.

Part of the reason for this inefficiency is that the burden of recruitment usually falls on individual labs. This means faculty members – already occupied by teaching, research, and administration – must also find, screen, and interview candidates. It’s a process that still relies on methods that are not only low-tech but also low-yield (faculty driving out to meet students or posting ads on internal mailing lists, for example).

These challenges are magnified for faculty representing smaller, newer, or less well-known research programs that must be even more proactive in recruitment. And some of these recruits will not finish the envisaged research program – triggering another search. Better matching platforms could reduce these costs and allow researchers to start their projects faster and more efficiently.

Building Research Networks: Enabling Collaboration

Technology can also enable greater collaboration beyond what was once possible – an important development given the many benefits of cross-disciplinary collaboration. Collaboration allows researchers to tackle broader questions, pool resources, diversify their workforce, more flexibly conduct peer review, and permit methods that may require significant upfront investments (such as expensive imaging instruments). Interdisciplinary research teams are also favored by funding agencies.


Today, the vast majority of published academic research is created collaboratively. The average paper published in Nature has four authors, and, overall, the number of papers with international collaborators has roughly doubled in the past decade. And as a rough proxy for impact, articles with more co-authors also tend to be cited more frequently. More sophisticated solutions for connecting researchers horizontally and geographically – and facilitating the sharing of data and equipment – could dramatically increase the amount of collaborative research and resulting knowledge generation.

Harnessing the Cloud as a Virtual Laboratory

The impact of technology is also increasingly being seen in the actual conduct and administration of research. Digital platforms are facilitating marketplaces in scientific research and lab supplies and equipment, while also providing new ways to track inventory and manage procurement. Even funding can now be crowdsourced.

By reducing or eliminating these administrative barriers, the hope is that it would encourage a new generation of researchers. It’s a model, exemplified by the “virtual biotech,” that is also increasingly common in industry to more nimbly manage research while controlling costs. And the concept of the virtual lab is gaining currency in other areas, such as in promoting science education.


The current renaissance in edtech is bringing new attention to the pressing and still unresolved needs of our educational system. As we reflect on edtech’s future, it’s worth appreciating the power of technology in also reshaping research in addition to educating students.

@Salesforce works with #HigherEd to roll out @Trailhead for Students

Reposted from ZDNET, October 3, 2017
Written by  for Between the Lines

Salesforce has announced a new version of Trailhead,
its online learning platform, tailored for higher education.

Trailhead - Start Learning for Free

 See what its all about at

The cloud company is partnering with universities, community colleges, workforce development programs and educational nonprofits to roll out Trailhead for Students. The platform provides educators with a curriculum that can complement existing coursework or serve as standalone educational content for a classroom or “bootcamp” setting. It promises students an opportunity to build up skills that could potentially help them land a job after graduation, as well as opportunities to connect with other students and mentors.

As companies look for prospective employees with cloud skills, and as schools attempt to keep up their technology-focused curriculum, Salesforce saw a “clear opportunity to make an impact on the digital skills gap,” Lisa Tenorio, senior director of Trailhead, said to ZDNet.

The focus on education is a natural expansion of Trailhead, which was launched in 2014 to help Salesforce build out a workforce familiar with its cloud-based tools. The company points to a 2016 report from IDC, which Salesforce sponsored, projecting that the “Salesforce ecosystem” will create 2 million jobs by 2020.

So far, Salesforce is working with more than 70 educational partners to roll out the program, including University of Massachusetts Lowell, Year Up, Jewish Vocational Services (JVS) and University of San Francisco.

With Trailhead for Students, educators can get access to instructor kits, including the new Salesforce Essentials for Business Specialists course — a course designed for educators and students across business and technology programs. Instructors can also use Trailhead as a tool in the classroom to track student progress and reinforce lectures through hands-on labs.

Students, meanwhile, can earn badges for building new skills, as all Trailhead users can, and they can join new student-led community groups with access to potential mentors from Salesforce.

Like the rest of Trailhead, Trailhead for Students is available to educators and students for free. Some professional training courses are only available for a fee, Tenorio said, but the educator curriculum is available at no cost.

The University of Massachusetts-Lowell, which has been a Salesforce client for three years, joined the program and trained around 60 students and faculty in an online bootcamp over the summer. The campus also recently hosted a “Salesforce day” with hands-on training and lectures for students. It’s also incorporating Trailhead for Students into existing courses during the Fall 2017 semester.

Sandy Richtermeyer, dean of the Manning School of Business at UMass Lowell, said accredited institutions are increasingly focused on building partnerships with industry to enhance students’ learning experiences. Trailhead for Students is especially well-designed for teaching students “current and relevant” skills, she said, as opposed to textbooks that may only get updated every couple of years.

Salesforce has also effectively demonstrated the impact of its technology across industries and fields like HR, marketing, finance, and operations management, Richtermeyer said.

It’s rare when you’re trying to demonstrate technology and how it important it is that it goes across all these areas of business,” she said. “Students need to have an enterprise-wide lens to understand how the technology can be implemented.”

#studentforce2 workforce

Better Together

An extremely inspiring post

In-depth with big-hearted Mark Milliron of Civitas Learning.

INTERVIEW | by Victor Rivero

Editor’s note: For one of the fastest-growing edtech companies in higher education, we’ve dug deep and present here one of our most in-depth interviews. Enjoy!

Dr Mark David Milliron Civitas Learning.jpg

A first-generation college student, Mark David Milliron came from a family of nine kids, with an African American brother, Native American brother, Korean sister—in total, 25 foster children, and was the first one to go on a higher education journey. It could have gone differently, but it hasn’t. Decades later, he’s doing what he knows how to do. And he’s doing it well: he’s bringing together the best of emerging technology, data science, and design thinking to help students learn well and finish strong. Today, Mark David Milliron, Ph.D., (pictured) as Co-Founder and Chief Learning Officer of Civitas Learning, helms one of higher education’s fastest-growing startup companies. An award-winning leader, author…

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Did I Just See You “Hardcode” a Salesforce ID? Aw, Hell No!

How Should Higher Ed Leaders Think About Data?

Written and Published by Gordon Freedman,
President at National Laboratory for Education Transformation

There used to be a time when you would call your stockbroker and they would tell you what to do with your money, no questions asked. You can still do this, but there is such an abundance of financial, market and political data now that many people can play their own hand in the market with plenty of electronic guidance. Or you can buy into an indexed mutual fund where finely tuned algorithms are doing their work in the background, and you just choose your level of risk tolerance.

What you know, reliably, is that investments in companies in almost every sector of the economy—tech, industrial, healthcare, consumer, financial and real estate—are maximizing their businesses with the latest technology, data science, artificial intelligence and customer analysis, and all the other levers that operate modern society and the economy.

Unfortunately, this is far from the case in higher education where we are squarely in the technology and data dark ages, a good ten years behind the corporations we are supposedly preparing students to be employed by. The separation is growing daily. This is deeply sensed by students who see an expanding chasm between their personal and social electronic life and campus operational eccentricities that cost them time, money, connectivity and poor visibility into their futures.

The point is not that colleges and universities should operate exactly like businesses, but that they should examine their plant, equipment, hiring, customer care and automation investments through similar lenses, because we live in an era with extraordinary tools.

Who Owns the Data Responsibility?

This kind of analysis is not something a CIO’s office or hired consultancy can do by itself. Leadership must invest time and energy and try to think about these issues, starting from a blank slate about how to best serve their constituencies, students in particular.

Unfortunately, many presidents, provosts and cabinet members are confronted with an array of data and technology products, mostly from vendors, and are asked to read through internal recommendations and external consultant reports about technology and data products and services, and simply ratify choices between competing products or services. I won’t go through the names of the companies in student information system (SIS), learning management system (LMS), student success, student lifecycle and data analytics spaces because competent people can choose between these alternatives.

What I will do is:

a) Question the premise of the categories of products and services that are being sold

b) Ask how and why institutions buy them and who the campus buyers are

c) Find out what the institutions and students receive in demonstrable value from these categories of products and services.

Legacy “Stretch”

Circa 2017, higher education leaders should be well beyond simply choosing between existing products and services that are presented to them. Instead, they should be asking, what does the institution actually need to do to be more successful, what does success look like, and how can they look beyond the current vendor mix for better fitting solutions.

The corporate sectors mentioned above, including healthcare, are far beyond what I would call “legacy stretch” and deeply into consumer, client and supply chain data automation. Legacy stretch means moving from tools that were once on paper, then on floppy disks, next on the campus backbone and now in the Cloud. Because these systems are in the Cloud does not make them modern, data-rich or machine learning-capable. It simply means they have been stretched from physical products or services to their digital or remotely hosted counterparts.

The other sectors went far beyond the “stretch” to completely redesign from the bottom up. In this case, bottom up means starting with the student and what is needed and meaningful to them, which ultimately affects the institutional bottom line.

For all the talk about student-centric, student-lifecycle and student-success models on the campus, the stark reality is that compared to their corporate and consumer counterparts, campuses concentrate more time on their internal structures and its issues than they do on their students (customers). And it’s not the fault of the campus alone; that behavior is also baked into the current technology products and services that are sold to each separate buying silo on campus.

If only 60 percent of faculty use an LMS, which is about the national norm, then buying student success solutions that are dependent on data feeds from the LMS and SIS might not be the smartest thing to do because the data flow is inhibited by the limited and irregular use of the LMS on campus and the inherent limitations of the SIS.

Similarly, the SIS is not a data-smart system across student functions. If it were, it would be able to machine-read the content in courses and assessments, in campus services, career counseling and provide reliable feeds of information and analyses to students, faculty and administrators—just like Facebook and Snapchat do for their users and advertisers.

Manufacturing Confusion for Students

Instead, the burden is on student to get electronic messages from four or five different places on campus and from a number of offices scattered across campus they are supposed to visit physically. But without a coherent, data-rich, electronic tether, the college experience for students begins to fade in relevance, value and connectivity. A campus can bulk up on success systems, but if each one does not bring more clear day-to-day experience and ease of navigation to students, then the value of such systems should be questioned.

No commercial or consumer company would make the bar so high for its customers or clients. Instead, they go out of their way to remove these barriers day in and day out. However, the existing structures on campuses make the kind of re-engineering corporations went through almost impossible because of academic governance, the culture of committees, and the inability to have a single point of electronic contact with students.

What Leaders Should Know

So, what should a higher education leader know today about data systems and data?

  • Campus products and services are antiquated because they are not moving toward merging capabilities into single, data-rich systems.
  • The new, large analytics, student lifecycle managers, and customer relationship management (CRM) players are interesting and much more, data wise, but their success relies largely on the use of legacy-stretched systems.
  • If dropout rates are north of 25 percent, your institution is failing behind in ways that require new kinds of thinking and new tools, not shifting deck chairs.

Ultimately, the data needs to flow from various campus services to be integrated at the level of student-controlled primary accounts that students control and into which official feeds come with more reliable information on each student. Then that account can provide reliable data back to the campus.

As it stands now, there are:

a) The legacy-stretched traditional core campus players (LMS, SIS),

b) The fill-in-the-gaps and the pick-up-the-slack new analytics players (Civitas, EAB and Hobsons)

c) The student or customer lifecycle managers designed specifically for higher education, alongside newcomers that have crossed over from the commercial world (SalesForce, Workday)

But the lifecycle managers are not silver bullets for a simple reason. The solutions that will drive change, keep students in college and connect into the workforce, by definition, have to be student-owned and operated, just like every other social media app where engagement is authentic. Silicon Valley is not up to this challenge and few others are because it is complicated.

The Future: Better-Connected Students

Where is the future that will genuinely connect students to their academic life on one hand and their future work and career on the other? There are several bright spots including the drift toward more comprehensive student lifecycle management that involves students directly.

  • Cambridge, MA start-up PragyaSystems has taken their knowledge of the LMS, SIS and other campus systems and created “Learning Streams” that pass each students data from all systems and runs it through IBM Watson so Big-Data analysis can be applied at the student level to bridge learning and earning. (Disclosure, the author was a consultant for Pragya).
  • Austin, TX, University of Texas System’s Institute for Transformational Learning,, is at the other end of the spectrum, where the UT System’s upper management is fully behind completely rebuilding the technology to meet the K-to-work needs of Texas. The effort incorporates flagship involvement from SalesForce and novel building of new student transcript systems using BlockChain technology.

Luckily, the UT System has the funds and mission for actual student-up transformation that re-organizes all of their work as a system serving campuses. But for a startup or a system to break laterally into the individual college or university technology stack and academic administration is not easy, largely because there is not a high-level owner in an institution that owns student data throughout the student lifecycle.

The institutional breakdown is that there are silo-based buyers who work cooperatively with the CIOs office on purchases, but no overall high-level steward to make sure all the solutions are properly harnessed for student learning and completion outcomes.

The nonprofit I run has been in constant dialogue with many institutional leaders, technology providers, publishers, researchers and startups inside and outside of higher education. Our mission is to open up the dialogue that will involve students directly as a strategy for student and institutional survival. This redesign and is needed now. It should be a priority.

What Can Leaders Do?

What can leadership do?

  • Put out the word that you want the next-level conversations to occur.
  • Band together, have the forums, attract participants outside campus tech, have campus tech and data solutions make the student experience generalized across multiple solutions.
  • Bring students in to talk about the single app to connect their learning, support and career possibilities.
  • Build the specifications and descriptions of the solutions you need. Do not rely solely on making choices between what exists and is emerging.

Without a comprehensive app in hand and the strategic data back-end that aggregates all student interactions with the institution, it will be difficult for colleges and universities to keep pace with the needs of employers and for students to merge their learning into their social context.

This article was originally published on The

(Gordon Freedman is Founder and President of the National Laboratory for Education Transformation, NLET, a West Coast nonprofit devoted to gaining processing parity between consumer apps, e-commerce and big science and the academic space. We value your input as we build this new nonprofit.)

Predictive Analytics for #HigherEd

Published by EdTechDigest – February 24, 2017

How real-time decisioning is shaping higher education.

GUEST COLUMN | by Joe DeCosmo and Sean Naismith

CREDIT Enova.pngThe need for institutions of higher education to deliver solid return-on-investment for their students has never been greater. With the cost of traditional higher education continuing to rise, universities are in competition with each other to essentially secure high-paying careers for students upon graduation. Meanwhile, for-profit universities are striving to meet gainful employment regulations and debt-to-earnings requirements that are meant to ensure students graduate with the skills and tools necessary for career success as well as the financial capability to repay student loan debt with sufficient career earnings.

Now, and in the future, higher education institutions need innovative ways to deliver on their students’ return on investment.

Now, and in the future, higher education institutions need innovative ways to deliver on their students’ return on investment. Advanced, real-time predictive analytics decisioning technology is emerging…

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