Center for Professional and Workforce Impact Launched

The University College initiative aims to address changing workplace needs and bolster career pathways for employees across industries

With advances in artificial intelligence, increasing automation, and the rise of hybrid and remote work, evolving needs in the workplace are increasing the demand for continuous learning and professional development. 

Higher education has an important role to play in responding to that demand, according to Rebekah Plotkin, director of professional and custom education at University College

“Employers are looking for workers who can adapt to changing technologies, learn new skills, and apply new methodologies into their roles,” says Plotkin. “We believe that higher education can do even more to address the needs of both workers and employers.”

To do so, University College and Tufts University have launched the Center for Professional and Workforce Impact, which Plotkin directs. The center reflects Tufts’ commitment to social mobility and career readiness, key components of University College’s strategic plan. 

“We’re dedicated to developing ongoing, career-long education that keeps pace with workplace changes and provides advancement opportunities for learners at all stages and across industries and job roles," says Plotkin.

The center will allow Tufts to flexibly meet learners where they are by developing new industry-aligned workshops, short courses, and courses that build into non-credit micro-credentials (digital badges and certificates). Learners can leverage these for upskilling and reskilling throughout their careers. 

The center will also serve as a hub for research on adult education and workforce development, with future researchers based at the center working with other Tufts researchers to develop programs informed by data about workforce development. 

Plotkin notes that initiatives like these are currently under way across the university. “The center will bring our resources together to drive even greater impacts by Tufts on workforce development,” she says.

Meeting Market Demands

One of the center’s primary goals is to provide a flexible and adaptive suite of educational offerings. Initially, the focus will be on micro-credentials—short, on-demand programs that build specific skills and competencies validated by industry needs. Initial offerings will include training in core professional skills such as project management, data literacy, risk management, financial management, quality control, communication skills, data visualization, design thinking, and applied research methodologies. Over time, these core skills can be stacked to create customized certificates that target a specific industry need or align with employer needs.

“Focusing on micro-credentials will allow us to offer training for skills that are needed in the market,” Plotkin explains.

Some of the center’s programming will be in partnership with industry associations and other Tufts entities. As one example, the center is co-developing programs with the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy in nutrition information assessment, food sustainability, and product development to help nutrition-related and adjacent professionals (like food service managers and healthcare professionals) grow their careers.

The center will also play a crucial role in advancing research on workforce development and economic mobility. Plotkin foresees that the center will conduct impact studies and community-driven research, which will in turn deliver insights on effective strategies for workforce training and career advancement. This research will support the development of educational programs—and help secure grant funding of research proposals across Tufts. 

“Funders are increasingly seeking workforce training and professional development components as part of grant proposals,” says Plotkin. “We look forward to providing the research and expertise to help our faculty prepare the most competitive applications for funding.”

Supporting Career Pathways

Another aspect of the center’s mission is to provide robust advising and advocacy for learners and institutions alike. This includes career mapping, skill-gap analysis, and coaching for individuals, as well as consulting services for businesses and public-sector organizations. The center will work closely with other offices and departments across Tufts, like career services and alumni offices, to support the professional advancement and transitions of students and graduates.

The center also plans to collaborate with Tufts faculty and administrators seeking to integrate career readiness into existing curricula. By serving as an advisory body, the center aims to articulate the concrete skills that students need to acquire, aligned with industry demands.

Plotkin says that the launch of the center comes at a time when the workforce development space is fragmented nationally, with many stakeholders and varying regional needs. The center will help unify efforts in the space, creating a cohesive approach to workforce training and professional development that engages a broad group of partners and stakeholders.

University College Dean Denise Bates emphasizes the transformative potential of the new center. “The Center for Professional and Workforce Impact will have a significant positive impact by increasing Tufts’ efforts in workforce education. This initiative will enhance our educational offerings and position Tufts as a leader in this area, benefiting our students, faculty, and the broader community,” she says.

The establishment of the center is a major step towards bridging the gap between higher education and the workforce. As Plotkin says, “Our goal is to create a community of lifelong learners who continue to engage with Tufts throughout their careers, so they can be certain they have the skills and knowledge needed to succeed in an ever-changing job market.”

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