Capturing the Untapped Market: Aspiring Career Changers

Career Outcomes: The Key to Effective Enrollment Marketing is a six-part blog series that explores how postsecondary institutions can combat declining enrollments by appealing to untapped market segments. New to the series? Find Part 1 here.

More than half of American workers are interested in changing jobs—and better opportunities for career development is the No. 1 reason they cite for wanting to leave. The younger the worker, the more likely they are to say professional or career development is “very important” to them. In other words, around 87 million of the nearly 150 million working adults in the United States may be looking to change careers.

These aspiring career changers should be prime candidates for higher education: They’re actively looking to grow their skills to land a better job. Yet, according to a recent analysis by EAB, many do not understand how completing a postsecondary program can help them achieve their career goals. This echoes an earlier study that found a mere 26% of American adults believe certification programs prepare students “very well” for good jobs. Four-year and two-year degrees fared even worse, at 16% and 12% respectively.

How can you fix this perception problem and convince these adult learners that your institution’s programs will help them transition from daily grind to dream job? The answer is to first, ensure your programs are accurately aligned to today’s labor market. And second, be able to clearly show potential students how coursework can translate into careers – not just in general, but for specific situations and specific students. This all starts by identifying career-to-program alignments.

How to Create a Career-to-Program Alignment for Working Learners

The first step is to identify popular, fast-growing, careers that are in high demand in your region. The fastest and most up-to-date resource to find this information is Burning Glass Technologies’ higher education tool, Program Insight. Universities all over the United States are using Program Insight to analyze local job market data to identify the best local careers for their students. Program Insight also provides information on the exact skills being demanded for careers, salary information, the time it takes to fill positions, and more.

If you don’t have a subscription to Program Insight, then you can use other sources such as the Bureau of Labor Statistics or O*NET’s Bright Outlook tool. However, these sources are less frequently updated, and will only provide general labor market information.

Step 1: Identify high-demand, fast-growing, and popular careers in your region.

  • Find out which careers have enough job openings and demand to be appealing career paths for aspiring career changers in your area.
  • Find occupations with rapid growth or numerous job openings. For example, in the screenshot below, you can see that openings in Information Technology in the Boston metro area are projected to grow by 11% and there are over 64,000 job postings. This suggests universities in the Boston area should encourage adult learners to join their IT programs, since there’s a verifiable demand for these types of jobs.

  • Additionally, you can explore national job sites, such as or, as well as local job boards. Jobs with lots of postings from multiple employers may imply a growing field. Older postings that are still being actively promoted may be an indicator of high-demand or hard-to-fill positions. Make note of specific skills or knowledge that employers prefer or require candidates to have.


Step 2: Map out the skills, knowledge, and abilities recommended to succeed in each career.

  • For each career path you identified in Step 1, make a list of the skills, abilities, and knowledge that will be needed for each of those careers. Make sure to also include any specific skills you found while reviewing job ads.
  • Now that you have separate lists for each career path, you’ll want to create a “master list” of all skills, abilities, and knowledge across all the career paths you’ve identified.


Step 3: Match career skills, knowledge, and abilities to your institution’s programs.

  • You’ll want to work closely with your faculty and staff to gather insights from the lists you created. Ask each program’s faculty and staff to review your master list of skills, abilities, and knowledge. Use a table like the one below. Faculty should mark each skill, ability, or knowledge that students will acquire from their programs.
  • Work with current students and alumni as well. Ask them to review the master list and indicate the skills, abilities, or knowledge that they have learned, or expect to learn, from your programs.


Career Path Master ListProgram Name: Forensic Accounting Program
Skill, Ability, or KnowledgeIndicate if a student will learn this via the Forensic Accounting Program
Deductive ReasoningYes, in ACC 5252 Analyzing Financial Statements


Step 4: Determine which popular jobs are realistic career outcomes for your institutions’ programs.

  • Using the information you gathered in Step 3, compare the completed master list with each career path’s skills, abilities, and knowledge. If a student will learn the majority of the necessary skills from an existing program, then the career is a realistic outcome for graduates of that program.
  • If there are popular jobs in your region that are not realistic career outcomes for any of your current programs, then you may want to consider creating new programs specifically designed to educate students for those popular jobs. This is a great way to increase enrollment efforts.


Step 5: Collect labor market data for each career path.

  • Once you have a list of popular careers matched to your programs, then you can start gathering more information about those careers such as salary, location quotient, conferrals, and competitor institutions. By understanding these insights, you can quickly take action to create, revise, or sunset a program based on the regional labor market demand.

After completing these five steps, you’ll see improvement all across your institution, from marketing and recruitment to enrollment and admissions. With clear career-to-program alignments, your institutions can show precisely how your programs can prepare learners to switch careers and succeed in a new line of work.

So far in this series, we’ve covered adult learners who know which programs they want to pursue and adult learners who know which careers they want to pursue. But what about adult learners who don’t know what they want to do? In our next post, we’ll explore what EAB calls “directionless drifters.”

Boost your enrollment rates!

Sign up now and be the first to receive the newest blog posts in this series and other helpful tips, tricks, and trends that will encourage more students to enroll in your school.
[contact-form-7 id=”11274″ title=”Blog – EDU EAB Series”]