Our Changing Economy and Alternative Paths to Employment

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Written by Steve Foelsch, Director of Disability Studies

By 2050, there is a good chance that a majority of job opportunities and the technology and skills they will require do not yet exist.   Globalization and technology has not only changed our economy, it has changed both the needs and expectations of employers. It has altered how future employees obtain the knowledge and skills they will need.

Employers will need and expect their employees to be adaptable. They will expect them to learn about and acquire new skills — to rely on “upskilling.”

Upskilling is a workplace trend that facilitates continuous learning by providing training programs and development opportunities that expand an employee’s abilities and minimize skill gaps. It focuses on improving a current employee’s skill set, usually through training, so the employee can advance in their job and find different roles and opportunities within the company.

Traditionally, students graduate from high school, move on to college and obtain a qualifying degree for a profession that they had chosen years before.

That is a rather daunting task to ask of anyone, let alone someone with the needs and challenges of a specific disability. Families devote much of their time focusing on navigating what is next for their child educationally, and then occupationally.

If you and your child have explored employment aspirations and opportunities as well as the required academics, you might have heard your child say something like, “I love all of these classes, but why do I have to take a foreign language if I want to be a gym coach?” Or worse yet, your child may exclude a career because they would have to take certain classes.

Beyond traditional associate’s and bachelor’s programs, there are a wide variety of certificate, short-term training and apprenticeship programs offered by Special School District technical schools. There is also  a collaboration of St. Louis-area businesses, universities and community colleges.


Below is a small sample of alternatives to the traditional education-employment scenario:

  • The concept of “stackable” credentials and certificates. This enables students to enter a job and become proficient at certain tasks. They then take specific courses or training for advancement. Stackable credentials are when you have accumulated academically based qualifications that give you a small, defined set of skills and abilities.


Acquiring these targeted credentials can help students, job seekers and people looking for advancement to:

  • Explore options and opportunities of interests;
  • Build upon current experience and knowledge;
  • Experience self-confidence by achieving short-term goals;
  • Change and adapt their future employment plans;
  • Acclimate themselves to the world of work and work relationships (achieve “soft skills”);
  • Avoid the anxiety and expense of making a two- or four-year commitment;
  • Become a desirable employee by seeking advancement; and
  • Demonstrate commitment by working for credentials that will lead to advancement in more demanding roles, or “upskilling.”


An example of a program and professional goal that can be obtained by taking “stackable” college credits can be found in Forest Parks’ course catalog and below.

Stackable:  Once you earn your Network Engineering Certificate of Proficiency, all of the credits apply toward your Network Engineering Associate of Applied Science degree with the Server focus. In addition, if you’ve earned a Certificate of Specialization in IT Help Desk/End User Support; 17 of your credits will apply toward your Network Engineering AAS degree.


This information is in no way intended to dissuade you from considering traditional four-year degrees. It is merely a presentation of new opportunities for gaining employment that are flexible.

You can be confident with your current knowledge and skills, and still acquire more that will provide opportunities for advancement.

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