Setting Students Up for Career Success: A Q&A with Tracie Bryant-Cravens


Partnerships between higher education and private organizations are helping to better prepare students for the realities of the modern workplace. Students of all backgrounds in a variety of industries work alongside professionals in real work environments, using today’s technologies. 

With this, students graduate ready for today’s technical and high-demand fields. Institutions that can provide this level of preparation for their students are more likely to attract top students and gain a reputation for successful student outcomes.

Tracie Bryant, AVI-SPL VP of Sales for State/Local Government & Education, explains why these programs result in improved education and career opportunities.

Question 1: How can higher education institutions better prepare students for the modern workforce? 

If you’re not actually immersed in the job itself, then there’s a lot that you still need to prepare for when you’re actually in the workplace. One way to bridge that gap is through public-private partnerships that pair students up with a sponsor within an organization, lending their real-world experience to the student. Professionals who have experience are matched with students based on the curriculum.

These internship and mentoring programs give students the best preparation for future work success. When they’re enrolled in the program, they have a sponsor from that company who’s consistently working with them and advising them on skills they should have or improve on.

Question 2: What role should institutions play in exposing students to workplace technology?

Campuses should be exposing students to the specific technologies they’ll be using in their fields. What institutions should know is that if you aren’t buying the technology that is used in the workplace, then your students are going to be at a serious level of deficiency. We often hear, “I go to school every day to use old technology.”

Many colleges have had to close their doors because they just can’t keep up. They’re not getting the enrollment, and a lot of that has to do with degraded facilities and technology that’s not up to snuff, and not meeting accessibility standards.

Question 3: How can institutions provide the right technology to prepare students for the workforce?

Number one is to digitize. Digital transformation has taken hold in the workplace. Institutions need to get off the analog systems and go toward more technology-driven solutions to accelerate learning programs. They also need to be able to reach students in more disparate areas, and give students dual enrollment opportunities so they can work and be enrolled in a college at the same time.

With the consumerism of IT, it’s the user driving how we use technology. We’re starting to see students dictating what technology they’re going to use, where they’re going to use it, and how they’re going to use it. And the instructors are just becoming facilitators and providers of the space for technology.

Now institutions are outfitting more open areas with technology components that are mobile and moveable so students can use them how they want to. They can even repurpose them for uses other than what they were originally intended for. That’s why huddle spaces are becoming so popular—users just want to be able to drop down and sit wherever they are in a common area and collaborate right there. They don’t want to have to go reserve a room with technology in it for that purpose.


Question 4: What are some of the technologies used to prepare students and workers for highly specialized fields?

Simulation programs are taking off. Back in the 80s, aerospace had a very high rate of crashes due to pilot error. They started putting pilots through simulation exercises, and it dramatically decreased the number of airline crashes due to pilot error.

About 250,000 people in this country die each year because of medical mistakes. Taking a cue from the aerospace industry, if you put healthcare providers through simulations—and they’re not allowed to operate on a real patient until they’ve successfully performed this exercise X number of times—then the failure rate in the healthcare industry should also go down. We’re always learning more about procedures that can be done better, more safely, and more quickly.

Specialized industries are starting to use a lot of augmented reality, virtual reality, artificial intelligence, simulation, and robotics. We’re seeing this not only in healthcare but manufacturing, engineering, oil and gas, and anything that requires a great deal of machinery or processing a great deal of data. For example, a lot of accidents happen on oil rigs, so they’re doing simulation to try to prevent them.

Question 5: Are these programs and technologies useful for more than just developing technical skills?

Yes, and that’s very interesting. With these collaboration tools, students are learning a lot of those social and soft skills without actually being directly taught that that’s what they’re learning.

That’s why many schools won’t purchase displays without interactive or touch features anymore. In fact, a lot of the grant monies will not pay for anything that isn’t interactive. Also, the students just aren’t going to use it otherwise.

A big part of these workforce development programs—like mentoring and coaching for job placement—is done over video. Institutions with distance learning programs that aren’t interactive have had to close campuses. You really need the interactive quality to make these online programs work. You’re going to see a lot more web conferencing with the capability of adding video.

Question 6: How can an institution get started implementing and funding a career training program?

There are a lot of associations out there like EDUCAUSE or the United States Distance Learning Association, and AVIXA (formerly InfoComm) that have strong programs around education.  We also work with the Center for Digital Education, and each state typically has its own professional development or distance learning association.

Educators, instructors, technicians, and instructional technologists can join many of those associations for free or for a minimal fee. Corporate members are the ones funding them. There are a lot of associations that hold regular meetings or events. They are great places to go to start learning from your peers, to find out what other like-minded institutions have done, and what best practices are. There is a lot of that research available online through those groups.

There are also a ton of grants out there—either federal, state, or foundation—that that are specifically designed to attract educators to buy those types of tools. For example, there is a big push for interactive presentation in teaching systems right now. Interactive white boards are being replaced by interactive flat panels, and everything has to be 4K, UHD, touch-enabled, mobile, etc. Schools and other institutions are going digital native, beefing up their tools and infrastructure, and the federal government is releasing grants to help meet those needs. For example, a smaller, more disadvantaged school can apply for a grant that requires them to pay maybe $50,000, but they receive an additional $450,000 to pay for that technology investment.

A lot of programs are also sponsored by large Fortune 100 companies that are donating funds to build simulation labs on campuses that integrate their tools into what the students are using in job-training exercises. Then these companies provide students with jobs as soon as they graduate so that they can immediately get out into the workforce in these high-growth, high-demand areas with high-paying jobs.

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