As a veteran digital marketing professional, Rachel Harris Ledet is quite familiar with the rapid pace of change in that dynamic field. It’s something she emphasizes in her role as lead instructor for the new Certificate in Digital Marketing at the University of New Orleans.
“The technology, the Google algorithms, everything is changing all the time,” Ledet said.
The speed at which jobs and the modern workforce are evolving is the key reason why the University has developed a growing portfolio of certificate programs and workshops through the Professional and Continuing Education (PaCE) division of the University. The programs focus on the types of job skills that local employers are currently hiring for.
In addition to digital marketing, UNO has announced classroom certificate programs on the topics of leadership and team management, agile application development, UX design, and a number of other high-demand professional areas.
Learning What Works
The University of New Orleans certificate programs feature instructors who have deep experience working in their fields, so students are gaining applied skills that reflect what’s actually happening in the workplace.
“The program is based on the real-world application of sound strategic marketing principles,” said Ledet, who spent more than 15 years doing in-house marketing for various companies before launching her own firm about 18 months ago. “I’m always tying it back to really good business planning, and how that is used in a real-world environment. Students will learn the whole gamut of different tools, then be able to apply what they learn to their own current work, or to change careers or launch their own business.”
Kimberly Hill Putman, an instructor in the Certificate in Leadership and Team Management, also stressed the applied nature of the programs.
“The courses are designed to be practical, with immediate applications,” said Putman, a Professional Certified Coach who works with C-level executives and other leaders in her own consulting business. “Students will get immediate feedback from instructors. It’s important to me that they can walk away with something incredibly tangible that they can start to deploy every single day.”
All the certificate programs feature class times in the evenings and on weekends, making them a great fit for working professionals.
Tapping Local Expertise
Having a local professional as an instructor can be a huge advantage for students, as James Willeford, instructor for the Certificate in UX Design, explained.
“As a working professional, the instructor is a direct connection to the professional world,” said Willeford, whose day job is lead experience designer for Entergy’s Innovation Group. “We might work for a company that is hiring or know of others that are. We can also provide insights to what companies are looking for in hires, what type of skills are needed, and what the hiring process is like.”
This connection with the local community is an intentional hallmark of these new certificate programs, according to Tina Chang, associate vice president for Professional and Continuing Education at the University of New Orleans.
“We’ve focused on creating educational programs that have the potential to meaningfully improve outcomes for citizens throughout the greater New Orleans area,” Chang said. “Over the past year, PaCE has invested considerable resources into partnering with leading professionals at distinguished companies such as DXC Technology, Entergy and Accruent, along with a number of others.”
Chang noted that the programs she’s developed are specifically targeted at skill areas that local employers have expressed a need for.
“Since this is PaCE’s first year of programming, the division has strategically focused on creating programs in high-demand hybrid job areas such as software product management, application development, digital marketing, UX design and e-learning, along with other key areas,” she said. “We hope these will serve as high-impact educational programs for this community and that the community will look to this university for these types of programs in the years to come.”
Developing Their Networks
Certificate students often make valuable connections with their instructors, guest speakers and fellow students. Ledet, for one, said that she will be leveraging her own broad professional network to benefit her courses.
“I have a lot of contacts, with examples and success stories to share, who can come in and explain what they do with a specific tool or strategy,” she said. “They are real people running real companies, and they can offer great career-related advice. That’s going to make for great connections for students.”
Other students can provide some of the best insights as part of the learning process, according to Putman.
“Every continuing education program I’ve taken has provided me with that cohort experience,” she said. “You’re going to be able to network with other local managers and leaders, who are going to have similar challenges.”
Group work is another feature of many of these programs, allowing students to learn from each other and get experience working in teams.
“We’re going to do a lot of hands-on group learning, peer assessment, peer feedback and putting projects together with other people,” Ledet noted. “That’s so important in real-life working situations, so that experience will be really valuable.”
Building a Portfolio
Another hallmark of many of these certificate programs is the fact that students will emerge with actual work examples they can show to a prospective employer.
“My students will develop a portfolio of sample work, because if you are applying for marketing jobs in the real world, people are going to want to look at what you’ve done,” said Ledet, who hopes to have students work with a nonprofit or other partner to develop these pieces. “I think it’s really important that you are not just sitting in class hearing someone talk at you, but that you are able to say ‘I know how to do it, and here’s proof of that,’ because you are required to show that in the workforce.”
Students in Putman’s leadership courses will complete a practicum project that centers on writing a real strategic plan for a work-related challenge. Willeford’s UX design students will also produce a digital portfolio that they can use when applying for jobs.
It’s all part of the philosophy of these kinds of certificate programs, which is that graduates are able to show their ability to make an immediate impact, whether they are moving into a new field or getting ahead in their current one.
“When you complete our two courses, you will learn to contribute as a designer right away,” Willeford said. “With many companies today needing UX help, our certificate will validate you have the foundational skills. We'll teach you to build a portfolio and communicate your design process, so that employers not only know you can help them but want you to do the job.”