Photo: Joe A. Mendoza/Colorado State University

During an unfathomable two months this spring, more than 40 million U.S. workers suddenly lost their jobs and filed unemployment claims as the COVID-19 pandemic forced suspension of business activity. If research projections prove true, more jobs could be vulnerable to loss, furlough, or wage reduction before we see the number abate. On the flip side, as U.S. companies emerge from the devastation and seek to regain traction, many will need to fill vacancies for qualified workers.

Therein lies the rub: The sectors that have shed most workers are not the same industries seeking to hire; therefore, many of the unemployed are likely to remain on the sidelines unless they reskill. Case in point, the leisure and hospitality sector is forecast as one of the fastest declining industries in the nation and has lost nearly half of its positions due to the pandemic; at the same time, there are an estimated 1 million unfilled positions in the information-technology industry, and its growth is projected at 22 percent this year alone.

This structural unemployment challenge is significant. Solving it as the nation gets people back to work will require intentional and integrated collaboration among business leaders, educators, and community leaders. This is especially true because our nation’s structural unemployment problem – defined by the schism between needed and available employee skill sets – is expected to grow as a result of the pandemic. Adaptation will be essential to recovery.

CSU Global is meeting this challenge. Our public university is fully online, delivers asynchronous courses in an eight-week format, and provides student support seven days a week, virtually around the clock. This approach helps students graduate as they successfully juggle work, family, and community responsibilities. In fact, we celebrated more than 1,100 new alumni on May 30 in our biggest virtual commencement ceremony to date.

student studying with laptop and windows in background
Photo: Ben P. Ward /Colorado State University

We join with hiring businesses, actively driving industry collaborations to achieve both academic and workplace success. As a state nonprofit institution, CSU Global is passionate about helping industry organizations continuously identify innovative, efficient pathways to blending workplace needs with deep learning; this makes learning part of employees’ jobs and lives, benefiting student-employees, employers, and the economy.

An important aspect of CSU Global’s industry collaborations comes in our recognition of the value of on-the-job training. Our faculty closely evaluate organizational training for higher education outcomes in an effort to award credit to student-employees when appropriate, even if we did not originate that education. One of our partners is DaVita, a nationwide health care provider with an exemplary leadership training program; we offer students employed by DaVita credit for their completion of that training. The resulting combination of employer-generated training and CSU Global course work means students efficiently complete their degrees with a healthy mix of academic knowledge, industry knowledge, and required workplace skills.

CSU Global has also been diligent in smoothing the process of credit transfer, working closely with employers and other postsecondary institutions to do so. This is critical for students completing their bachelor’s and master’s degrees; it represents a win-win for student-employees and their employers across the nation, reflecting alignment between real-world needs and higher education.

Similarly, industry collaboration in the creation of educational programs has been central to CSU Global’s mission since the university launched in 2008. This interaction has become even more important as our economy recovers from the pandemic – and businesses and higher education alike see an urgent need to adapt to new realities. To this end, our faculty work with industry leaders to design unique degree offerings, customized specializations, and certification programs.

For example, we are in final approval stages for a certificate and a master’s degree program in military and emergency responder psychology, a program requested by community stakeholders. After conducting research regarding Colorado, U.S., and global needs, our academic leadership partnered with police and military leadership and psychology experts to develop courses needed to address the mental health needs of our military members and first responders.

As a nonprofit, fully online institution in the CSU System, CSU Global is proud to serve its students and Coloradans. Our university is designed to respond to businesses and industries seeking an agile, collaborative approach to workplace success, facilitated through high-quality and affordable education. Achieving this CSU Global mission has never been more important than in this period of recovery from COVID-19.

Becky Takeda-Tinker, Ph.D., is president and chief executive officer of Colorado State University Global. She will soon transition to a new role as chief educational innovation officer for the CSU System.