Creating a 21st Century Job Ready Workforce

April 27, 2017

PUBLISHED BY Bruce Cleveland

A Skills Problem

The global economy has been rapidly transitioning from a 20th century industrial economy, to a 21st century “digital economy” – an economy driven by digital technology and data that enables companies to quickly conceive of new products and services and bring them to market faster and more cost-effectively than at any other time in history.

According to a report recently produced by the World Economic Forum, “a Fourth Industrial Revolution is building upon the Third, the digital revolution that has been occurring since the middle of the last century. It is characterized by the fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres.” It goes on to state, “The Fourth is evolving at an exponential rather than linear pace. Moreover, it is disrupting almost every industry in every country. And, the depth and breadth of these changes herald the transformation of entire systems of production, management, and governance.”

To foster innovation, accelerate revenue growth, and increase profit margins companies are “digitizing” nearly every business function, The centralized factories and hard machinery that dominated the last industrial age are being replaced with service-related jobs, distributed work environments, powered by “soft machinery” — business application software — supplied by companies such as: Google, IBM, Marketo, Microsoft, Oracle, Salesforce, and SAP, to name a few.

A simple search of the jobsites such as and highlight the fact there are currently 1,000s of well-paying jobs open for people who know how to operate the machinery of the digital economy. There are simply too few who are trained and qualified to fulfill the demand.

As a result, industry and government organizations require a different type of skilled workforce, one that possesses “digital literacy”. The new workforce must understand how to capture, analyze, and utilize customer, financial, market, and product data. People must learn how to become “business scientists”.

Not Everything is STEM

Business scientist roles are not technical positions per se; instead, they require people who are trained to generate and review business data, use business application software, and apply their creative skills to create business value. The demand for people with these skills exists in companies of all sizes, across all industries and countries.

In the US, politicians, academia, and industry leaders are currently placing a tremendous emphasis on technical training, coding, and other STEM programs. However, research from the World Economic Forum and The McKinsey Global Institute suggests that up to 20% of these positions may eventually be eliminated through advances in artificial intelligence and machine learning. There are currently 9M jobs in the U.S. that require technical degrees and/or experience. This represents just under 15% of the professional workforce. So, a technical degree is not necessarily a clear path to job security. Finally, many people are simply not interested or potentially well-suited for highly technical degrees and jobs.

According to a recent article posted in The Atlantic,“…liberal-arts majors are two to three times more likely to be underemployed than those with engineering or nursing majors.” The article goes on to state, “…the gap between humanities and STEM students is striking. Underemployment afflicts more than 50 percent of majors in the performing arts, anthropology, art history, history, communications, political science, sociology, philosophy, psychology, and international affairs.”

Yet, these are the very people who are creative and critical thinkers – a product of our liberal arts programs – and are ironically well-suited to fill business science positions. All that is required is some additional training in business science and how to use business application software.

As a result, a new type of training/education program is sorely needed to create job-ready talent prepared to fill these positions in high demand by the digital economy.

Inadequate Education and Training Programs

The current educational system is challenged to provide training for digital economy jobs that require skills using business application software.

Traditional Education. Most traditional education programs are not well-suited to provide the hands-on and work-related experience students need to master business application software and business science. Industry requirements and business applications change so rapidly that by the time a new curriculum is peer-reviewed and approved, it is already out of date – and few university professors have current industry experience or are skilled in the use of business application software.

Online Education Programs. Typical online programs lack real-time, interactive hands-on business application software instruction, business science training, and few offer the real-world work experience companies and government organizations require for even the most basic, entry level positions.

Application Software Companies. Application software providers are not in a position to easily address the issue as one vendor can seldom provide all the necessary functionality for a specific business or government function. In almost every case, each business function requires a number of application software products from a variety of providers.

Corporate Training. Due to the rapid pace of change and competition, most employers do not have the luxury of time or the resources to internally train new workers how to use business application software; many current employees are not up to speed with these new applications. Companies are seeking employees already skilled in these operational functions and business applications.

A New Education Category – Micro Universities

To train the digital economy workforce, the current education ecosystem must be augmented to include micro universities offering micro degrees. A micro degree must include the following:

●     Skills-based learning that prepares students for jobs in areas of high demand by industry and government organizations,

●     Hands-on, business application software instruction to prepare students to become business scientists,

●     A combination of physical and online learning delivered in real-time,

●     Work experience gained through real world projects mentored by industry experts,

●     A selective application process that helps identify people who are motivated to learn,

●     Less than 200 hours from zero knowledge to proficiency, and

●     Testing and certification to ensure employers that job applicants have achieved basic proficiency levels.

Key target audiences for micro degrees are:

●     higher-ed students in liberal arts programs

●     veterans transitioning back into civilian roles

●     Individuals returning to the workforce from significant absences (e.g. post parental, sabbaticals)

●     Displaced workers seeking a new career (e.g. Laid off workers due to job obsolescence – manufacturing factory workers)

●     Underemployed workers

●     Lifetime learners seeking new skills or career

The Case for Micro Universities and Micro Degrees

Educational programs for professionals (e.g. doctors, lawyers, accountants), technical (e.g. engineering, computer science, scientific) and vocational areas (e.g. nurses, mechanics, electricians) combine an academic program with “hands-on” training. “Apprentices” are paired with experienced professionals to ensure knowledge gained through years of experience is passed down to the next generation. All learners are continuously tested and certified for subject matter proficiency. This tried, tested and proven formula is what is required to train skilled business scientists.

To test this thesis, a pilot program was developed in 2015 called, BendPoly ( It began with a hypothesis that it could apply the classroom + apprentice/journeyman education model to quickly teach people how to successfully set up and manage business application software. Its objective was to make its students proficient enough to secure an entry level position in a key business function. It chose to begin with marketing – specifically, digital marketing science.

Over the summers of 2015 and 2016, the program held 2 sessions where it successfully trained 35 local – and 5 remote students – how to use business application software such as Google Analytics and Marketo marketing automation software.

Each session featured classroom instruction for 5 weeks — 6 hours per day, 4 days per week. The instruction included hands-on application software training by industry experts. For the final 3 weeks, teams of students were formed to develop real marketing campaigns for actual companies. The teams competed against each other and presented their outcomes to an independent panel of industry experts who acted as judges. The winning team was awarded the President’s trophy and were entitled to place this achievement onto their LinkedIn profile. This competition drove teams to perform their very best.

After completing the program, more than 80% of the students who were actively seeking a marketing role found positions in industry within one year of graduation.

Here are two links that explain the program and its results:



Pure Online Courses

Over the past several years, companies such as Coursera, General Assembly, Udacity and even traditional universities have begun to offer alternative education formats. Currently, the majority of the focus is on technical topics such as learning how to code, AI/ML, data science, and web design. Lately, many have introduced a variety of digital marketing courses.

However, the BendPoly program discovered – and other research tends to corroborate this fact – that people do not learn as effectively and most do not enjoy the learning process when courses are not delivered in real-time with live student-to-student and student-to-instructor interaction.

To date, none of the online programs are training people to become “business scientists” nor are they offering courses in applied business science teaching category leading business application software such as Marketo, NetSuite, Salesforce, SAP, and Zendesk. None offer “micro” certificates from these industry-leading business application software providers – which provide employers with assurances that the student has attained formal levels of proficiency on technology companies have standardized upon.

Most of the current offerings are biased toward the operational mechanics, not the applied science of a business function. A micro university occupies a new and different education category; one that is specifically focused on producing job-ready talent trained to operate the “soft machinery” of the digital economy.

GreenFig University – A Micro University Offering Micro Degrees in Applied Business Science

Based upon the success of the BendPoly pilot program, GreenFig University was created and structured to scale the program nationally. GreenFig positions itself as a micro university offering micro degrees in applied business science, including: customer success, finance, marketing, product, sales, service and support.

It combines experiential learning from industry experts with business application software instruction and provides practical work experience where students can apply their newly acquired skills. Its micro degrees can be achieved in 200 hours or less and when completed, students possess a certificate from industry-leading application software providers.  Students can be confident that that have the subject matter proficiency and basic work experience industry demands.

For its courses in marketing science, GreenFig has established a global strategic partnership with Marketo and is working closely with the company to develop a micro certification program that is part of their standard certification ladder. This partnership was announced at the Marketo Marketing Nation Summit on April 25, 2017, in front of more than 5,000 Marketo customers.

Steve Lucas, Marketo CEO, said, “The GreenFig University digital marketing science program provides students with digital marketing concepts and the basic Marketo skills, proficiency and certification they need to gain entry-level positions. They are then well prepared to go on and complete advanced Marketo courses to further their careers.”

Where Do We Go From Here?

In spite of the rhetoric, the digital economy will not lead to the “rise of the machines” leaving the vast majority of US citizens out of work with no way to earn a decent living.

The coming of each new Industrial Age has eliminated certain jobs while simultaneously generating many new opportunities. Industry will continue to move commodity jobs to the lowest cost/best quality providers and shift its emphasis toward employing and paying people who are creative, articulate, and able to operate on the “digital exhaust” of a digital economy.

The culture of the US fosters creativity, innovation, and ideation, and due to this culture, US workers are ideally-suited to capitalize upon their unique “social DNA”. Consequently, it will be difficult for other countries/cultures to quickly follow. As a result, the US workforce – across all industries – and the US economy stands to benefit the most from the digitization of the 4th Industrial Age.

It is a time to be highly optimistic as we leave behind the drudgery of rote job tasks and replace them with great jobs that allow workers to use their minds and personal creativity to power the digital economy.

See the original blog post on LinkedIn here.