CASE STUDY: Capella University Taps Business Leaders to Bridge the Gap Between Education and Workplace Readiness

Part of Capella’s strategic vision to close skills gaps and meet business needs, the new “Brain Trust” is already making a meaningful impact.

The evolution of change across all industries is progressing at a dizzying pace, and employers are finding that college graduates don’t have the skills required to effectively join the workforce. Capella University often has heard from its employer partners that focusing only on theoretical applications does not prepare learners for the realities of today’s rapidly evolving business environments, nor provide them skills they will need for career advancement in the workforce. Employers seek employees who can execute, with practical, hands-on experiences demonstrating applied skills. 

Compounding the issue is that the days of obtaining a degree, then joining the workforce and spending little time on continuing education, are long past. With entire occupations and industries growing, shrinking, and changing in their very nature, employees must be prepared for job changes, field and sector disruptions, and a new attitude toward training and education. We are moving into an era where lifelong learning and upskilling are essential for career success.

Employers are cognizant of this fact. The Deloitte 2017 Global Human Capital Trends Report, which surveyed more than 10,000 business and Human Resources (HR) professionals found: 

  • 83 percent of surveyed executives indicated that careers and learning were important or very important. 
  • The half-life of skills in the modern workplace continues to fall rapidly. Deloitte says the half-life of a learned skill is just five years.

Working adults also are becoming increasingly aware of the importance of continuing education. A 2016 Pew Research Survey revealed that 73 percent of adults consider themselves lifelong learners, and 63 percent of those who are working are professional learners—having taken a course or gotten additional training in the last 12 months to improve their job skills or expertise connected to career advancement.

With employers more driven than ever before to recruit employees with essential workforce competencies and experiences who can apply their knowledge from day one on the job, Capella University, an online higher education institution with a significant base of adult learners, launched an innovative program to more closely align its business and technology programs with the ever-changing needs of the marketplace.


In 2017, Capella University formed the School of Business and Technology Advisory Board, tapping business leaders and influencers across a diverse expanse of industries—from Cisco Systems to Eli Lilly to Hewlett Packard Enterprises to Pinterest. The board provides expert counsel to Capella leadership and key decision-makers regarding emerging trends, market needs, and workforce skills and competencies employees must have to thrive in the workforce. 

Close collaboration with these leading industry voices benefits all stakeholders:

  • CapellaUniversity is enabled to alignthe competencies in its degree and certificate programs with employer needs, resulting in relevant curriculum offerings in areas such as health care, cybersecurity, human resources, analytics, and more.
  • Employers gain employees who can demonstrate the knowledge and skills they seek, strengthening their workforce and gaining a competitive advantage in the fields of business and information technology. 
  • Learners/Graduates are equipped with the knowledge, abilities, and skills that deliver career-relevant outcomes, helping businesses with productivity and improving performance in the organizations where they are employed. They also increase their opportunities for landing a job and advancing in their career. 

Board members recognize that the synergy created by partnership between industry thought leaders and a higher education institution such as Capella University can have a significant impact on the employment market. 

“Developing and implementing corporate talent strategies to transform and build capabilities requires collaboration with experts in education,” notes Carolyn Jacobson, chief human resources officer at Fairview Health Services. “Being a part of this advisory board presents the opportunity to engage and participate in developing learning content and programs critical to the workforce of the future.”


In the short time since its creation, the School of Business and Technology Advisory Board already has provided Capella leadership with compelling insights on the pace of change and the practical skills required in today’s workplaces. Insights gleaned from the Advisory Board include:

  • The importance of learning agility—the ability to not only absorb information but to demonstrate an innovative mindset and apply knowledge practically via real-world experiences. 
  • The need for students to become adaptable, highly flexible team members to keep pace with ever-changing organizational environments.
  • Identification of “soft skill” gaps in foundational competencies that can be addressed through curricular and non-curricular exercises, such as business writing skills, collaboration, self-advocacy, integrity, and the ability to set goals and achieve them.
  • The value of leadership training and preparation for job transitions (including becoming effective team leaders). Based on advisory board feedback, Capella is investing in virtual internship programs to ensure learners gain experience with on-the-job applicability—making them more desirable job candidates and bringing greater value to employers. Capella also incorporated advisory board feedback into the redesign of its MBA program by incorporating leadership and analytics, along with executive coaching, into the program. 

Looking Ahead Capella University’s School of Business and Technology Advisory Board provides industry and practice-relevant insight to school leaders and faculty to meet the needs found within the business and technology sectors. Continued close collaboration with board members will enable school leaders to nimbly adapt and refine curricula as needed to meet the competencies critical for success in the complex, rapidly changing employment market. 

This collaboration between Capella and industry leaders is helping to pave the most direct path between learning and employment for learners and between learning and business outcomes for employers.

Tonia Teasley, J.D.,currently serves as vice president and general manager for the College of Business, Technology, Education and Public Service Leadership at Capella University. In this role, she provides executive direction over the growth of a spectrum of academic programs spanning several professional disciplines. She is also the interim dean of the School of Business & Technology.


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