Exploring the Alignment Between Workforce Needs and the Postsecondary Curriculum

Evidence suggests a coming shortfall of workers with the requisite skill sets to succeed in the rapidly evolving 21st century economy. Considerable attention is being paid to postsecondary education as a venue for workforce development. But at the heart of this assumption is the expectation that curriculum designers and STEM education professionals are aware of the types of skills and competencies that employers consider to be essential for success in their industry. Yet little empirical evidence exists regarding employer expectations in STEM-related fields, which makes integration of these expectations into educational programs difficult.

The goals of this study are to (1) identify employer expectations for the types of skills, knowledge, and competencies required to succeed in their companies; (2) ascertain the degree to which these expectations are integrated into the design of educational curricula and STEM education intervention design; and (3) explore the implications of employer desires for "hard" (i.e., technical) and "soft" (i.e., critical thinking, teamwork) skills for the postsecondary curriculum.

Matthew Hora explores these issues in regards to two critical industries in Wisconsin, advanced  manufacturing and biotechnology. With the support of the UW-Madison Center for Education and Work, a small-scale study on these topics was initiated in the fall of 2012, and this continuing work will expand upon that study.

This work involves conducting interviews, on-site observations, and collecting and analyzing curricular artifacts across the individual organizations. A team of three researchers will collect these data in organizations located in seven regions of the state. Across these regions interviews will be conducted with 2 individuals at 56 places of business (n=102 interviews), curriculum designers in selected departments at 21 educational institutions (n=70 interviews), and two educators involved in 14 STEM education interventions (n=28 interviews).


Completed on August 31, 2016

Contact Information

Matthew Hora