In response to the growing demand for social media expertise in companies across nearly all markets, Milwaukee Area Technical College (MATC) is taking a progressive step forward to develop a skilled workforce of social media specialists.
Leading that step is Larry Domine, MATC information technology instructor, who currently teaches courses focused on programming, mobile app development and social networking/social media.
With input from industry professionals serving on advisory committees, Domine, other instructors and department representatives have begun constructing a social media specialist program that MATC students will be able to complete as a major. Designed as a two-year associate degree program, the social media offering will take an interdisciplinary approach, blending information technology, marketing, business management and visual communications.
“Our whole focus is on workforce development,” Domine said. “The purpose and mission of MATC is to provide for a skilled workforce. What we do with social media is a skill that needs to be learned and understood and implemented.”
In moving forward, MATC instructors are in the process of writing a grant proposal. They will seek approval from both MATC’s board and the state this spring and by fall plan to have courses available to the public that are specific to the foundational courses in the major program. While MATC already has a course on social media marketing and another on social networking in business communications, the courses envisioned for fall will focus on using social media personally and professionally, how social media factors into an organization and familiarizing students with cloud computing services.
Domine aims to roll out the major by fall of 2014. Students will be able to pursue an associate degree or technical diplomas with more specific concentrations under social media such as design, media and business analytics. Later on, students can then piece these diplomas together to fulfill an associate degree if they so choose.
To devise the curriculum, architects of the new major have relied on the expertise of industry representatives and MATC instructors, conducted a survey in the marketplace asking what competencies students must have, and sought advice from the business community about the progression of social media.
“It’s always important to have the feedback of the local business community,” Domine said.
One member of the Milwaukee business community, Steve Glynn, sees a need to train students in blending the technology side of social media with the communication component to better understand consumer interaction with a company’s products. Glynn, principal of enterprise innovation at Spreenkler and consultant of Innovation in Milwaukee (MiKE), has also been active in advocating social media education at area institutions.
“The next step is how do we take all of these conversations happening every day every second and be smarter as a company to better understand a product demand or shift in consumer preferences?” Glynn said.
MATC’s social media program targets incumbent workers already in the market followed by new workers in the area.
“You have to first train the people that are currently employed,” Domine said.
As social media evolves into social business, graduates of the social media specialist program will be prepared to fulfill roles such as social media manager, social media strategist, and content manager. Their acquired skill sets will encompass establishing and analyzing strategies for social media as well as having the knowledge base to select the right tools, implement those tools and manage them.
As social media has evolved from a platform serving friends and family on a personal level to a platform catering to professional development to a tool for companies’ marketing initiatives to now an internal communication vehicle enabling businesses to better empower their employees, companies are looking for employees to be more engaged, productive and social media savvy, Domine said.
“Our job here is not just to emphasize education but to prepare you for the jobsite,” he said.
To fill a related pipeline of needed workers, MATC has also begun offering information technology development classes on iOS Apple and Android.
Instructor Matthew Friedel, founder and chief executive officer of app developer Jam-Mobile.com, teaches these courses with an emphasis on building practical applications, structuring teams of project managers, developers and graphic designers to complete application projects.
Friedel also serves as an industry specialist on an advisory committee for the social media specialist program.
“People are recognizing the role that these are playing in how people are communicating, and MATC is progressive in terms of providing tangible job skills that people need right now,” Friedel said.
Glynn firsthand recognizes the role of social and mobile platforms in communication as he routinely meets with C-level decision makers who want to learn about the integration of social and mobile technology and how they might better interact with their customers through these platforms.
Managing strategic communication through mobile platforms is critical to the workforce being cultivated, Glynn said.
“That’s definitely a skillset we need to develop here in this region,” he said.