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Brand-Specific Training

Career college chain leans into industry-aligned education for high-demand jobs in skilled trades.

Manufacturer-specific training and close ties with employers help the Universal Technical Institute tap into a hiring boom for the skilled trades. Also, how some universities are partnering with OpenAI to help shape how generative AI plays out in higher education.

Campuses That Look Like Dealerships

Surging interest in the skilled trades among young workers and a hot hiring market has been good for business at the Universal Technical Institute.

The publicly traded company had an almost 19% bump in new student enrollments last quarter, with roughly 5,500 new students evenly split across UTI and its healthcare division, Concorde Career Colleges.

“Demand for our graduates has never been higher,” Jerome Grant, the company’s CEO, said during a recent call with investors.

The company focuses on high-demand technician roles with good pay. It’s relatively expensive to attend, with annual tuition rates often topping $40K, and net prices (after grants and scholarships) hovering around $20K-$25K, according to federal data. But UTI says its practical, industry-relevant training pays off for students.

UTI is adding programs and new campuses in Austin and in Miramar, Florida. It also prunes programs based on its assessment of the market, competition, population dynamics, and career opportunities for students. For example, the company recently consolidated its two campus locations in Houston.

“Labor market data is a critical piece of our program evaluation model,” says Todd Hitchcock, the company’s chief strategy and transformation officer. “We also are regularly looking for data sources for new and emerging industries, like wind and EV [electric vehicles], since these areas don’t have the robust data available like those of more established fields.”

UTI has moved into wind energy training, and recently embedded a certification from the Global Wind Organisation as part of its seven-month programs for wind turbine technicians at three of its campuses.

The company’s strategy, for both emerging and well-established jobs, relies on close relationships with its 6K employer and manufacturer partners. Those ties help keep UTI’s programs aligned with market needs, says Kelye Gwaltney, director of talent acquisition at Sunbelt Rentals, a major equipment and tool rental company that employs more than 18K workers at 1,200 locations across North America.

“Their hands-on training approach gives students practical experience with the tools and equipment they’ll use, minimizing the need for additional training,” she says.

Sunbelt Rentals is a participant in a recently created experiment from UTI, which seeks to create paid on-ramps to jobs for students. Employers determine eligibility requirements for the early employment program, with most offering students 20–30 hours of paid work experience, consideration for full-time employment, and reimbursement for education-related expenses.

The program helps the talent pipeline, Gwaltney says, and with training costs. “Students gain practical experience, reducing on-the-job training needs,” she says.

On-Brand Education: UTI’s wheelhouse has long been training for automotive and diesel technicians. 

In addition to auto companies that hire its graduates, the company has had success with manufacturer-specific training programs. Manufacturers like Ford and BMW don’t hire its students directly, Hitchcock says, but they set the programs’ standards and requirements.

For example, students in the Ford Accelerated Credential Training program get 15 weeks of Ford-authorized training on models from the manufacturer and can earn 12 brand-specific certifications. Over 25 years, 28K students have completed the program, which covers up to 70% of the specialty training Ford provides to technicians who work at the company’s 3,100 U.S. dealerships.

“We design our campuses to look like these dealerships,” says Hitchcock.

UTI is the top hiring source for Sewell Automotive, which operates 19 dealerships across Texas. Its training programs give graduates the basics they need to start on the job, says John Norlington, a service manager at Sewell.

“Cars are just getting more complicated these days,” says Norlington, a former auto technician. “When you start in this industry, everything you’re working with is new.”

The company’s partnerships with manufacturers are key to helping its graduates break into the industry. They know more than other entry-level hires because of the speciality certifications, says Norlington. And that helps with employee retention. While it costs significantly more to attend UTI than a community college, he says its graduates tend to stick around longer.

The Kicker: “They start off more advanced,” he says, and “are less likely to get frustrated and quit.”

Shaping AI’s Use on Campus

ChatGPT Edu is Open AI’s attempt to gain a foothold in the lucrative (and still mostly untapped) higher education market. But the new tool, released 18 months after the launch of ChatGPT, also has the potential to pull the slow-moving world of academia—and hundreds of thousands of academics who have avoided the tech out of fatigue, fear, or a whole host of other reasons—into the era of artificial intelligence.

For the early adopters, it’s a chance to shape how higher education applies generative AI to teaching and research.

“When you’re one of a handful of institutions piloting a program like this, you’re establishing your own ground rules,” says Kyle Bowen, Arizona State University’s deputy chief information officer. “That gives you more power than if you wait until the technology is already in a mid-space where it’s not new. The fact that generative AI is advancing and evolving so quickly is why it’s important to be an active participant in defining the future for it.”

OpenAI decided to formally launch a version of its AI for higher education after successfully piloting a new version of its platform, GPT-4o, at ASU, the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, Columbia University, the University of Texas at Austin, and the University of Oxford.

Though OpenAI announced ChatGPT Edu in May, it won’t be available to institutions more broadly until later this summer, the company says. OpenAI plans to charge institutions, not their students, to use the platform.

Higher education on the whole has been “lethargic and slow” to experiment with ways to leverage this culture-changing technology, says George Siemens, an expert on human and artificial cognition and chief scientist at Southern New Hampshire University’s new Human Systems project, which is investigating the systemic impact of AI on learning and wellness.

The industry’s leaders also aren’t out there driving the conversation about what the application of AI can and should look like in higher education, Siemens says.

“What we’re having instead is an abdication of responsibility,” he said during an episode of The Cusp, a Work Shift podcast. “It’s almost like negligence to not sit down and have that conversation. It’s defaulting to, ‘Well, we’ll just let things ride rather than respond to it.’” —By Margaret Moffett

Read the full story over at Work Shift.

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Open Tabs

Energy Apprenticeships
The qualifications required for key-skilled technician apprenticeships at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Savannah River Nuclear Solutions are a high school credential, U.S. citizenship, and discipline, Marketplace reports. The starting salary is $70K for most of the 100 apprentices in the eight-month program. The Savannah site, which plans to hire 9K workers over five years, also offers degree-based and youth apprenticeships.

Changing Careers
Job security has surged as a priority among global workers, as has learning and career development, according to a survey conducted by Boston Consulting Group. Among the 150K respondents, 39% said they use generative AI regularly. Fully 70% anticipate that their jobs will change, sometimes significantly, requiring them to develop new skills. However, most workers weren’t terribly worried about AI pushing them out of their jobs.

Degree Requirements
For the last 50 years, unemployment of Black workers has been twice that of their white peers at every level of education. These gaps will not “magically disappear” if employers remove college degree requirements from job postings for middle-skill jobs, writes Michael Collins, vice president of JFF’s Center for Racial Economic Equity. Collins says occupational segregation must be addressed to increase diversity and equity in the workplace.

AI in K-12
The percentage of K-12 students and teachers who say they are using generative AI and approve of it has risen sharply, according to a poll conducted by Impact Research for the Walton Family Foundation, reports Eric Rosenbaum for CNBC. Almost half of teachers (46%) and students (48%) say they use ChatGPT at least weekly, with student usage up 27 percentage points over the last year. And 70% of students had a favorable view of AI chatbots.

Workforce Data
The federal government is prohibited from linking individual-level data to education and employment outcomes, which means data sit in silos across states and private data providers, notes a brief from the Harvard Kennedy School’s Project on Workforce. The paper, which is part of a series, includes recommendations for policymakers, higher education, and employers on how to modernize and leverage education-workforce data systems.

Job Moves
Cheryl Oldham will step down as vice president of education policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation. Oldham will join the Bipartisan Policy Center to lead a newly formed human capital division.

Reach University announced several appointments, including Anastasia Wickham as chief academic officer and university provost, Kiko Suarez as chief impact officer and head of partnerships, and Eric Dunker as chief executive of the National Center for the Apprenticeship Degree.

Summer is almost here. Catch you next week. —PF