Understanding the Needs and Motivations of Working Professional Student Segments

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Understanding the Needs and Motivations of Working Professional Student Segments

Working Professional Student Segments

Launching and repositioning programs that can compete in a challenging market requires a nuanced assessment of working professional students’ needs and motivations. All too often, these students are treated as one monolithic audience— or divided simply into career changers versus career advancers.

A closer look at the different needs and motivations of working professional segments reveals opportunities for professional and adult education units to innovate program design and strengthen the portfolio.

Upskilling in place

Motivation: “I need new skills to keep up with job expectations.”

Value Added by Education

Value most often from skills learned quickly (not credential’s authority).

Career Goal

Keep up!

Require new skills to stay current in their jobs or to move laterally to another employer

  • Affordability, because new skills may not lead to pay increase
  • Flexible scheduling while working
  • High unemployment
  • Growing employment in fields with high-need for digital or technical skills
  • Employment concentrated in health and IT fields

Seeking promotion

Motivation: “I need to build new skills for my next step.”

Value Added by Education

Skills often outweigh credential, except in industries with prescribed career ladders.

Career Goal

Advance

Need to prepare themselves for more senior roles in their fields

  • Builds on field knowledge
  • Accessibility while working
  • Low unemployment within field
  • Demand for managerial skills
  • Growth in entry-level employees needing managers or who will seek to become managers

Many professional and adult learners might start with a career need or concern but are unaware of how further education benefits them. Providing each audience segment with nuanced and innovative programs addressed to its motivations requires an intervention to help prospective students recognize the educational need. Each section below provides the original student motivation, the recommended intervention, and the resulting re-framed student need.

Facing replacement

Original motivation: "My career doesn't exist anymore."

Intervene to reframe original motivation as a recognized educational need:

Reframed motivation: “I need retraining.”

Value added by education

New skills offer greatest benefit but may require credential to change industry.

Career goal

Secure a new job

Must change jobs due to automation, outsourcing, corporate relocation, etc.

  • Accelerated time to completion
  • Retooling for an adjacent field
  • High concentration of jobs in manufacturing and highly technical fields
  • High regional wages and taxes

Returning to the workforce

Original motivation: “I haven’t worked professionally in a long time."

Intervene to reframe original motivation as a recognized educational need:

Reframed motivation: “I need to develop updated skills.”

Value added by education

Credential communicates readiness for today’s job, and updated skills ensure performance.

Career goal

Secure a new job

Refresh skills to return to work after long-term unemployment or full-time caregiving

  • Rebuild professional networks
  • Update technology-related skills
  • Declining wages or increasing cost of living
  • Cyclical or sudden economic downturn
  • Growing K-12 enrollment (leading indicator of parents returning to work)

Preparing for a switch

Original motivation: “I want a better job."

Intervene to reframe original motivation as a recognized educational need:

Reframed motivation: “I need to prepare for a career switch.”

Value added by education

Credential signals preparation, but fields (e.g., tech) may primarily seek skill growth.

Career goal

Secure a new job

Develop different skills to move to a job with greater compensation, prestige, or work-life balance

  • Introduction to unfamiliar field
  • Create new professional networks
  • Low unemployment
  • New industry moving into the region
  • Growing industry diversification

Pursuing a passion

Original motivation: “I’m looking for a career with meaning.”

Intervene to reframe original motivation as a recognized educational need:

Reframed motivation: “I need to prepare for a career switch.”

Value added by education

Skills learned for new role matter most, if entry-level degree requirements are met.

Career goal

Secure a new job

Seek new skills to take job with greater personal meaning (e.g., business ownership, human services, creative roles)

  • Portfolio creation to demonstrate new abilities
  • Preparation to navigate self-employment
  • Low unemployment
  • High regional income
  • High proportion of Millennials (seeking more fulfilling careers) or Boomers (pursuing encore careers)

Discover how to attract tomorrow’s students and compete in a crowded market.

Want to learn more about credential design?

Rather than choose a credential to launch and hope to find an audience, first determine the audience a program will serve and then build the offering to meet their needs. Read our Roadmap on how to effectively design credentials to meet adult student needs.

While there’s much we don’t know, early economic signals and expected audience behaviors can help us anticipate who’s most in need of your adult and professional education offerings in the COVID-19 aftermath. Thinking about impacts by audience segment can identify which programs offer the greatest value, and what you might need to do to maximize that value for potential students.

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