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  • Colleges take new approach to anticipating—and meeting—workforce needs

    The Hechinger Report - 02/19/2013

    One of those is Northeastern University, whose so-called “experiential learning” approach requires undergraduates to work in real-world settings for as many as 18 months while in school. More than half go on to full-time jobs in those places, and more than 90 percent are employed or in graduate school within nine months of earning their degrees.

    Nationally, only 42 percent of the Class of 2010, the most recent for which the figure is available, had jobs at graduation, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers. Fewer than two-thirds were employed six months later.

    Northeastern’s focus on preparing its students for the workplace has driven a 46 percent increase in applications to the university over the last five years.

    The school is using spidering technology to strategize an expansion from its base in Boston to other cities, such as Seattle and Charlotte, N.C., where real-time “help wanted” listings reveal high demand for workers with certain skills, but not enough supply, and where Northeastern has opened satellite campuses to lure lucrative, tuition-paying graduate students. More are planned.

    “We can see how metropolitan regions compare in terms of the hiring that’s going on,” said Sean Gallagher, senior strategist and market-development officer at Northeastern. “Then we can dig down and see who are the top employers, so we can meet with those employers and find out what the skills are that they need.”

    Like other schools, Northeastern previously used state and federal government labor data, “but a lot of those are fairly basic forecasts on a really long time-scale,” Gallagher said. “The inflection point, from my perspective, was the economic downtown in 2008. After that, you could see that these forecasts were entirely out of date.”

    Other higher-education institutions still rely on such outdated information, however, Gallagher said. “The way they operate—their orientation, their culture—is just not to incorporate labor-market information in a routine way.” But he said that will change, “especially as more technology like this becomes available.”