The Difference Between Training and Education, and Why Employers Need Both


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Posted In: Workforce Insight

Nov • 1 • 2017

As we’ve shifted to a knowledge-based economy, the clear lines between the worlds of training and education are blurring, and both educators and employers need to recognize the shift.

Traditionally, training has been concerned with specific skills and shorter time frames. For example, how to program a CNC machine, or how to handle specific types of customer interactions. Education, on the other hand, has been more about teaching someone a broad set of skills — such as critical thinking, researching and presenting information, and other traditionally “soft” skills — that are transferable across a variety of fields.

Education and training historically come from very different places. Education was meant to teach the upper classes to be well-rounded leaders, whereas training was learned through apprenticeships to guilds. Until recently, education was focused on imparting knowledge; training was focused on teaching specific skills.

But in today’s economy, the skills that workers need to be trained in are of a higher order than ever before, therefore requiring more time to teach. Meanwhile, education can do a better job of recognizing that students need to be able to apply their knowledge if they want to thrive in the workforce.

Put another way, education must be more practical and training must be more advanced. Employers and educators need to come together to meet the needs created by this convergence of education and training.

Higher-order skills, more practical education

When career researcher Laurence Shatkin crunched the data to find out which skills were in highest demand earlier this year, he found an expected increase in highly technical skills like “installation” and “equipment maintenance.” What was surprising, though, was that softer skills like “learning strategies” and “instructing” were also being sought after more than in the past. Not only do employees need to operate and maintain specialized equipment, they also need the ability to learn new skills and teach their coworkers.

Matthew Hora, assistant professor of adult and higher education at the University of Wisconsin–Madison heard something similar while interviewing educators and employers for a comprehensive survey on the state’s workforce development activities. As he told College for America for our ebook on the intersection of traditional liberal arts and new workplace skills training, “Manufacturers aren’t just making the same diesel pump every week for years on end, and employers are struggling to find people who have flexible intellectual and social skills to learn new machinery and processes quickly.”

At SNHU, we’ve heard from the beginning that employers want workers who can read and write critically, solve problems, and communicate together in teams. Those skills traditionally come from education, but it’s no longer enough to teach those skills from a purely theoretical standpoint.

Employers want people who can problem-solve within the specific context of a research laboratory or automated manufacturing facility, and employees with those skills are in high demand. Research from job market analytics company Burning Glass found that liberal arts students who coupled their degrees with technical skills had nearly double the number of jobs available to them than those with only liberal arts degrees.

We’re seeing this shift to more applicable knowledge throughout higher education, even in less traditionally technical fields. A good example might be the idea of a traditional MBA, which is in many ways very theoretical because it’s grounded in high-level ideas. But in order to keep the MBA relevant in today’s fast-changing business environment, we need a much clearer sense of the capabilities students are acquiring. MBA graduates need to be educated in the mindset, of course, but also trained in how to manage in a technology-driven workplace.

Related reading: Building Soft Skills and Employment Pathways

Lifelong learning: What this means for employers

Perhaps a better way to describe what we need from education and training is through the concept of lifelong learning. To succeed in our jobs, we need both the well-rounded knowledge and ability to learn that comes from a liberal arts degree, and the training to practically apply those skills at work. Blending the two can boost both academic achievement and lifetime earning potential for students, as outlined in a recent statement from social policy research organization MDRC.org. And it can help employers close the skills gap to create a pipeline of qualified employees within their own companies.

Blurring the lines between training and education doesn’t come without challenges. One of the biggest to both educators and employers will be credentialing. The coin of the realm in education has been degrees, whereas in training it has been certifications and licensure. As a blending takes place, there are going to be many more options in terms of developing skills — whether they are softer skills or harder skills — and the challenge will be in validating that people have them.

We’re already beginning to see the unbundling of different degrees and the creation of micro-credentials people can stack together to create a more comprehensive picture of their competencies. It brings up the question: Will longer-term learning continue to be relevant? Or will the portfolios of the future consist of a variety of credentials? And, as we blend training and education, do we risk forgetting the value of a well-rounded education in favor of short-term learning?

Related reading: The Coming Paradigm Shift In Competency-Based Hiring: An Interview with Innovate+Educate

Forging partnerships between educators and employers

Employers and educators will increasingly need to consider these questions. We hear from many of our employer partners that they’re not getting students out of college who have the requisite skills, which makes it a challenge to keep up with changes in their own business model. They want to know how, from an education and training perspective, they can help their current employees keep pace with rapid changes in their jobs and business models.

Neither traditional education nor traditional training may fully prepare employees with the skills they need to compete in today’s market, but a shift in the way we look at the two just might. We can’t throw out education and replace it with pure training. Nor can we expect the old formats of training programs to impart the higher-level skills workers need.

For employers, there’s value in thinking of education and training as part of a set of tools that can be applied together for complementary results.

And educational institutions need to step up and think about how we can really support training strategies and make education more relevant to the workplace. But most of all, both parties need to understand that navigating these fundamental changes is only going to happen through strategic partnerships between employers and educators.

To learn more about the skills requirements of today’s frontline jobs, download our recent ebook: The Liberal Arts at the Office: Addressing the New Skills Gap.