HR Leads Business

Apr 20, 2019 | Mary Ellen Slayter

Preparing Students for the Future of Work: Q&A with Jon Westover

You may not be familiar with the HR program at Utah Valley University (UVU), but its cutting-edge human resource management program is leading the way in preparing HR professionals for the future of work.

UVU’s program focuses on creating opportunities for students to connect with professionals and gain real-world, hands-on experience with the skills they need to succeed. Partnering with HRCI to offer the aPHR certification is one way that UVU ensures that its graduates are prepared for the future of HR.

Jon Westover co-directs the HR management program at UVU and also serves on the board of directors of HRCI. His program provides a model to institutions looking to adapt their HR management programs to better serve the needs of today’s employers.

I spoke with him about UVU’s program and how you build a HR program that educates students in managing a 21st-century workforce.

What makes your program unique? 

We are all about engaged learning and professional development. Other prestigious HR programs from nationally and internationally well-known universities may have very good students and be difficult to get into. But, frankly, these programs often aren’t keeping up with the times when it comes to changes and advances in the field. Their programs are 25 years old. They're not actually preparing the next generation of HR leaders by creating innovative curriculum and program designs.

At UVU we can't operate in that space. In order for us to prepare students to be competitive in the marketplace for jobs, they need to learn a critical skill set, they need to have applied skills and up-to-date content knowledge. So that's how we've designed our program.

We’ve very consciously taken the approach of focusing on providing opportunities for professional development, networking and engaged learning. Students do consultancy projects, even at the undergraduate level, as they go through their course work. They get real-world experience through internships, and we help them be aligned with professional organizations through certifications.

All of that adds value in the minds of employers who can see our students entering the workforce with a top industry certification and six to eight consultant projects under their belt, and with the real skills they need to be successful, along with deep content knowledge.

What advice would you give to other programs looking to update their model for HR education?

Too many programs are still trying to create researchers and or they just want to place students at high-profile positions in Fortune 100 companies. They’re not as interested in supporting students in getting HR certifications or completing experiential learning projects at the undergrad level.

But that’s a very unrealistic and outdated approach to HR education. In the next 20 years we're going to see more universities trying to establish their own legitimacy in what they're providing back to the professions, to the community and to their students in terms of tangible skill sets. There will always be a certain tier of top, prestigious research universities that continue to focus on the old model. But for 95%, 99% of the universities, to be competitive in the next 20 years, they're going to have to rethink the way they're doing things.

What strategies have you used at UVU to create an HR program that prepares students for the future of work?

Those things that make our program unique — the focus on providing engaged learning experiences, student consulting projects, and certifications and microcredentials — are all part of how we’ve built a program that produces highly prepared future HR professionals.

But we’ve also focused on building partnerships with employers and companies in our own community at the city and state level. We just recently created an MBA with a tech management emphasis that's a direct partnership with Silicon Slopes, a startup and tech hub working with Utah-based companies. We had this opportunity because we have demonstrated that we care about Utah and we care about educating the future workforce of our state.

Ultimately, I’d encourage other HR education professionals to rethink what they’ve been doing the last 20, 30 years that's been successful. They should think about what's going to be required to be competitive in the next 10 to 20 years. That’s what it’s going to take to build a successful program that can compete in the future.