Teacher helping a student

In an article about non-traditional learners I was struck by how many of the elements of the matrix that identifies challenges for non-traditional learners applies to professionals who may already be highly educated.  The situation for professionals is that no matter how much education you have, there is always a need for more.  A need that is not facilitated by employer based programs, i.e. it’s up to you, the professional to struggle through it.


The list is as follows:

  • Age
  • GED/HiSet vs high school diploma
  • First generation in college
  • Underserved minority
  • Students with children or dependents
  • Full-time work while in college
  • New immigrants in American education
  • English Language learners
  • Non-campus residents
  • Low income and living in poverty

The article goes on to say that if a non-traditional student is dealing with three or more of the above issues their ability to be served is by the educational institution is much more challenging.  

By my calculation, career professionals almost universally have the following non-traditional learner traits:

  • AGE
  • Students with Children or Dependents
  • Full-time work while in college
  • Non-campus residents
  • Low income (assuming a layoff was the impetus to going back to school)  

They may exhibit some of the other traits as well, but I think the above four represent a good selection of traits that are exhibited by the non-traditional professional student.   If one were to look at the other factors, they paint a picture of people with limited education who have struggled in life.   Even a highly educated professional can exhibit 50% of the traits on this list if not more.

The article is the first of two parts that really goes into details on how the Endicott college is attempting to serve the non-traditional student market.  It’s an admirable goal and the points are well taken.   What wasn’t in the article was the idea that business need to be apart of the solution package.  

I work very closely with a college and I work very closely with the business community.  In brief, the college wants to educate.  The ‘low hanging fruit’ for the colleges are the students who have limited education already.  Consequently support programs exist for this class of worker to get through school. There is a dearth of programs for Adult students who already have a middle class income.  

The business want employees with the skills they need only at the moment they are needed.  If the skills aren’t needed there is a layoff.  This continual focus on right sizing affects labor and the professional class.  The best way to avoid this type of layoff is to have as many different skills as possible.  For example if you work for an EFI company, then you would want to be able to do CAD/CAM, installation, project management,  and maybe even janitorial experience if all else fails.  Most professionals don’t come out of school with this portfolio of skills and certifications, they are trained in one broad area (for example: communications) and thrown to the corporate environment where the company is supposed to take the generalist and make them a specialist.  That was the old model, the new model is the company doesn’t want the generalist, they want the specialist and they only want the specialist when they are needed.  The company has no incentive to train the generalist. They are on the hunt for the purple squirrel.

When the eventual downsizing does occur, the resources for professionals to weather the storm of a layoff are being reduced significantly.   

 The point of this post is that educated professionals, and Professional Individual Contributors (PIC’s) need to develop their skills and that means continual investment in their own education because nobody is going to help them invest.   This makes the middle-class professional a growing class of non-traditional learners, even if the support programs that exist are not really tailored to them.   It is for this reason professionals have to continually prepare for the inevitable.   There are several things the professional can do, live a life of no debt, stay in school continually, maintain a very low standard of living, and keep a focus on an extreme speciality or in an area of long term growth.  It’s truly a challenge for professionals to keep learning what they need to stay in demand, and it’s something we could use more help than we have.  It would be nice if there was a class we could take that would teach us all the tricks on how to do it, we just need to figure out childcare while we attend.   

Posted by Mike Peluso

Mike Peluso writes about the collision between between the business / professional world and life. He also writes about the journey involved with the Peluso Presents efforts including the Blog, Books, and Podcast so that others may benefit from his efforts. From Mike: I spend hundreds of hours working on these articles every year with no compensation other than support I get through donations. You can support with a tip and by Subscribing to the Podcast (and writing a review on iTunes would be really appreciated as well!) One time tips: www.paypal.me/pelusopresents https://venmo.com/pelusopresents

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