Webinar Panel Discusses 21st Century Skills

By Susan Shogren, NASFAA Director of Certification and Credentialing

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, societal changes and advancements in technology were already affecting how, when, and where people work together. Workforce trends, the time it takes to acquire new skills, and the inherent learning curve in financial aid administration are already creating staffing challenges in financial aid offices across the country.

During a recent NASFAA webinar, 21st Century Skills for Financial Aid Administrators, a panel of experienced financial aid administrators recommended a proactive approach to retaining experienced staff and attracting newcomers to the profession.

Karen Krause, executive director of financial aid, scholarships, and veterans benefits processing at the University of Texas at Arlington, summarized workforce trends identified by Emsi Burning Glass during 2021. Economic modeling confirms the labor market is shrinking. The U.S. has experienced declining population growth in every decade since 1960. Employees are reaching retirement age or leaving the workforce for other reasons. Last year, the U.S. experienced a historically high “quits rate” across all industries, especially in-person and manual services.

What do these trends mean for the future world of work? The rapid pace of change and digital integration will continue to increase. The disruptions associated with the global pandemic that prompted significant changes — including rapid deployment of virtual solutions — will continue to affect how we work and live. Temporary arrangements and flexibilities will become permanent or will need to be further modified, heralding even more change to come.

Human resource professionals and talent development experts predict work will become increasingly integrated, collaborative, and geographically dispersed, which will challenge employees to be even more flexible, creative, and inclusive. Even more than in the past, they expect employees will need the ability to cope with change, manage time well, work independently, communicate clearly, and effectively handle stress. Skills in high demand will include cognitive adaptability, digital literacy, judgment in decision-making, emotional and social intelligence, and a creative and innovative mindset.

Sarah Everitt, director of financial aid operations at Gonzaga University, explored some of the essential skills needed by financial aid staff, divided into technical, human, and conceptual categories. She recommended continuous staff training and communication, and helping those who are interested to find opportunities through which they can learn and grow. For professional growth, she suggested seeking out involvement with interdepartmental committees and projects, and making time for your colleagues to help build important relationships over time.

Jessica Flogaites, associate director at the University of Pittsburgh, shared her research into the role of the financial aid director. Based on surveys conducted for her doctoral dissertation, current and aspiring financial aid directors should expect to perform simultaneously as leaders focused on the future, managers focused on present and short-term priorities, and educators for students, families, staff, and university constituents.

All three panelists acknowledged this is an especially intense period of change, and it's reasonable to expect even more changes to come. They encourage everyone working in financial aid today to make time for professional development, take advantage of training opportunities, and connect with colleagues. Given the changing nature of the workforce, and the challenging nature of financial aid work, it's essential to be proactive about preparing yourself and your team members for what's ahead.


Publication Date: 3/14/2022

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