S1:E23 Dr. Joe May – Bridging Gaps with Professional Certificates

July 13, 2021 |  Students
34 min

Dr. Joe May is Chancellor of Dallas College and the driving force behind a program providing professional certifications that bridge the gap between job candidates and the employer needs.


Tyler Jacobson  0:01

Welcome to LabChats, a podcast from the team at LabStats. I’m Tyler Jacobson, your host for today’s episode. Each week, we’ll sit down with technology leaders in higher education to get the latest buzz and insights while we discuss current events, trends, problems and solutions. Now let’s get into it. For today’s episode of LabChats we have with us Dr. Joe May, who’s Chancellor at Dallas College. Joe, did you want to take a minute and just give a little bit of a whirlwind overview of your experience, and then we can talk about education a little bit?

Dr. Joe May  0:37

Sure, Tyler, and thank you so much for allowing me to join you today. It’s a real pleasure to be here. Dallas College, like most people would guess, is in Dallas, Texas, where urban institutions enroll roughly 150,000 students each year at our location. So one of the larger institutions in the country. I guess what’s unique about us in some ways, is that for over 50 years, we operated as seven separate institutions. And this past year, we consolidated into a single institution and you know, folks ask “Why did you do that?”, it was really simple. You know, in today’s world, as individuals are often picking education almost in programs and à la carte type manner that having seven options out there was just too many and was causing actually people to not earn credentials or degrees because they were picking up from different locations around and even though it kind of looked like those might come together for a degree because they were from different institutions, they often did not. So we’ve really simplified our institutions, streamlined the process for students, made it easier for employers to connect and [we’re] proud to be here and proud to be a part of today’s conversation.

Tyler Jacobson  2:06

Excellent. So what prompted us to invite you on was we were speaking with Ryan Craig, and he was talking to you holding you up as an example of some of the certification programs you’ve introduced to Dallas College. Give me a little background on what you did, and and a little bit of what you’re trying to accomplish with that. 

Dr. Joe May  2:26

Yeah, sure. And [I] appreciate that. And Ryan [is] always someone I enjoy talking with. He’s a great one to bounce ideas off of, and to get his input and kind of reaction to things. So I appreciate [you] following up with Ryan’s conversation. The idea that we realize is that for so many of our students it really is about: how do they take where they are in life today, where they would like to be in life and [how do they] get there? And often is just a bridge too far for them to comprehend. So many of our students either weren’t successful with their previous educational experience, not because they didn’t have the ability. It’s often that they didn’t have the motivation, or they didn’t see the opportunities, or they’ve grown up in families that had told them “Well, you can’t go to college because we can’t afford it. So why plan, why pursue?” And yet they have great ability, but they find themselves in a situation where they’re needing to work. And so what we’ve realized is that we can do a couple of things to really help with that. If we provide opportunities for certifications first, and we call it certificates first, in terms of and programs, allowing people to earn a certification that has real market value today. And in today’s economy, in today’s marketplace, and so that they can get a job, let’s say paying $50,000 a year, rather than $15 an hour that they might have made otherwise. This allows them to begin to build not only a more robust educational experience, and be able to plan for the long term both for themselves, their educational career, their career and the economy in the workforce, as well as how they can serve their family and meet the broader needs of the community. So we’ve designed this we call it “True Pathways”. But the idea is that they start with a certification, often industry-based, almost always non-credit that serves as a foundation that leads to a job that in and of itself has marketability in the economy and the workplace. But the great news is that we dovetail and count that toward more traditional degrees. So that just because you started and what would be something that’s often offered by a boot camp or another non-institutional provider is actually now part of an educational plan and program and takes individuals from where they are in life to where they want to be.

Tyler Jacobson  5:09

Okay, that is excellent. And you, you generated about six more questions in my mind while you’re talking. It sounds like an exciting program. What are you doing as far as you said, marketability? How are you giving that program like value or teeth when a student comes out? And are you going to the employers first? or How are you giving it true value? 

Dr. Joe May  5:34

Yeah, great, great question. And we created about seven years ago at Dallas College, something that we call the Labor Market Intelligence Center. And the labor market side builds off of commonly available data, we’ve got great partners such as Chimera Burning Glass, EMSI [and] others that helped us really do a great job of analyzing the market, understanding what jobs are in demand, going over looking at ads that are being placed, looking at the salaries, the income. Well, unless the data side. The intelligence side then is getting out and engaging employers directly in understanding and partnering with them. And what we find is that that last piece is critical. The data gives us kind of a hunting license, if you would, of where to be targeting, where to look at but then you had to really get down and look at the specifics. So, I’ll just pick one that is on everybody’s mind these days: cybersecurity. So a cybersecurity certification and credential is not a “one size fits all”. Depending on the needs of your organization, depending if you’re looking at someone doing forensics, as opposed to, you know, active combat of really protecting in real time your assets and resources in that space. And so the skill sets may be overlapping. But the credentials may be different for what’s there. The same is true in healthcare, and other areas that are out there as well. So understanding specifically, what’s being…I guess, in the market today, what are employers looking for? What problems are they trying to solve, and what may be necessary in order to specifically meet those needs. So we generally start with the employer first. [We] make sure that we understand the need. So let’s pick a bank. Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, it doesn’t really matter. All of them have certain things that they’re looking for. And let’s say it’s individuals with a Google IT Professional Support Certification. So you’ve got that as someone that they’re looking for a skill, set that certification. So now we partner with Google. And we come together, because you would think that those automatically dovetail into degrees. They don’t. We then have to translate that so [that it] will. It’s easy to offer the certification, and it’s easy to offer the credit program, it’s not easy to bring those two together. So we’ve done that with organizations like Google, like Verizon, like Salesforce, AWS, others, where we not only partner with the employer, side of the house, but we also partner with the credential provider side of the house as well, so that we can bring those together for the benefit of both students and employers.

Tyler Jacobson  8:42

That seems like a critical piece, because anybody can write a curriculum and generate a certificate. But if that certificate doesn’t mean anything to the employer, it’s not going to provide value to either the employer or the student. So when you’re starting to enroll for these certificate programs, are those enrollments, employers that are directing employees to go get these certifications? Or is it prospective employees that are wanting to build their resume and land that dream job? Where are your students coming from?

Dr. Joe May  9:18

Yes, it really is all of them. Although, you know, we refer to our model as the Career Connected Network. And we also sometimes ascribe it from the student side that what they want to do is enroll in a job, that they’re really not looking to enroll in a program that’s just a means to an end along the way. So we really do start with that employer. But then look at how we identify the individuals that have needs. And so many of the employers that we work with…I’ll just pick Bank of America as one right now, but I could pick others, JP Morgan Chase or others, for example, are really doing a couple of things all at once. They’re looking at how they get the skill set that they need for employees. Number one that’s important. Do they have the skills needed to do the job? Secondly, though, they’re also looking at how to create a more diverse workforce, a workforce more reflective of the communities in which they’re located and serving. So they’re not looking at simply bringing in employees from traditional types of backgrounds or tracks. That’s kind of where we come in. And often, we partner with others, like organizations like Year Up, but it may be Boys Club, Girls Club, it may be others that can help us kind of figure out how we can bring individuals that we refer to as non-consumers of higher education. If you’ve read Clay Christensen’s words, he talks about non-consumers being the big market that’s out there. Well, we see that in education. So identifying those non-consumers, often they don’t look like traditional students, how do we want to invite them to support them in a way we can talk about that support side, because that’s really part of the network. I mean, it seems like public transportation is like food banks and pantries, it’s other services that are there. So we really provide wraparound services that once we bring them in, we want them to be successful. And we want an employer that will bring them on board and help them reinforce that, you know, our goal is even if they start out, and many times they do start out as interns that they stay there. That they become full time employees with that organization. So it’s a very robust relationship and pipeline with our employers.

Tyler Jacobson  12:02

Okay, so is this turning into something that’s become a recruiting channel for your regular programs?

Dr. Joe May  12:10

You know, that’s a great question. And I think it’s particularly important during this time of COVID, where we have had just major disruptions in the workforce. So you know, record unemployment last year, employers having trouble finding people, but employers are still having trouble finding people, even though we’re seeing the unemployment rates decline, more people going back to work, entering that. Right now, what we’re really looking for [is]: how do we find more students to take advantage of these programs in order to enroll? It’s kind of interesting. I’ve never before been at this point, partly because of the federal stimulus dollars. Other resources are that there are resources to virtually guarantee that almost anyone can go to college today, particularly community colleges, if not free, almost free, at just about everywhere, to get the type of support wraparound services. I mean, we’re providing, we just approved today, an additional 5 million to support childcare for our students. So we provide free public transportation passes for all of our students, we give them debit cards for food pantries and food banks in order to have access to that, and really support those needs. But we still are struggling to find enough people to meet the needs of employers in the area. I think that’s the big gap right now. And it’s getting that message across that: how do you get from where you are to a job? Which kind of gets back to this concept that we’ve talked about. As individuals want to enroll in a job, they don’t want to really go to college, they don’t really want to enroll in a program. They want to see a direct [of a] line from where they are in life to a better job and a better life. And so how can we connect [those] dots for them and make that apparent? And I still think that for a whole variety of reasons, we’re not doing a good job as a society, of showing people how to navigate that pathway in a way that they understand it, and see it as a low risk option for a better life.

Tyler Jacobson  14:44

I see that in, you know, the options my kids are looking at and things like that. That college may not be the most direct path to a job because it takes 2, 4, 6, 8 years depending on what degree you’re looking for. What is the timeline to complete one of these certificate programs? And so how quick could a student realistically be applying for these positions?

Dr. Joe May  15:12

As little as eight weeks. That’s available. Six months on the outside qualifies an individual for a great job. And right now in North Texas, for example, the Google IT Professional Support Certification is worth about $50,000 in the marketplace. That’s not bad. And, that’s the beginning. Now, here’s the key: that certification has a shelf life. Meaning that over time, it becomes less valuable. So if that’s all you have, and you’re not adding to your education and building off of it, that value will decline. It’s worth a great deal, relative to where a person is today. But that’s just really the beginning. So what we’re trying to do is, let’s get that fundamental [piece] in place, let’s get them the skills to get the job, and let’s help reinforce that, to help build that education background so that in the future, that they have the skills to build off of that and to add to it and be able to have a career, not just a job.

Tyler Jacobson  16:20

So is that something that you foresee as having a refresher certificate in five years, where you’re able to update them on new industry trends and things like that?

Dr. Joe May  16:32

Sure, sometimes it’s a booster, sometimes. It really is, this is the beginning. And you’re going to be building off of this. So we refer to it as stackable credentials. But it really is a pathway, a journey. We frame that out so that we show students, if you start here, here’s the next step, here’s the next step. And here’s ultimately where you can end up. And there are multiple