A Conversation with Dr. Brett Bradfield

Dr. Brett Bradfield was selected as the 23rd president of the University of Sioux Falls in January of 2017. A graduate of Dakota State College, Bradfield holds a Master of Arts degree in educational psychology and counseling and a Doctor of Education degree in educational administration from the University of South Dakota. After serving the first 20 years of his career in various professional roles as a teacher, coach, counselor, assistant principal and principal in K-12 public and private education, Bradfield moved into higher education at the University of Sioux Falls in June of 2000 after serving as principal of O’Gorman High School. Before being named president of USF, Bradfield served as director of graduate programs, vice president for professional studies and provost/vice president of academic affairs at the university.


WIN: Why is higher education increasingly in the spotlight in discussions about workforce development, both here in the Sioux Falls area and nationally?


Dr. Brett Bradfield: While the apparent linkage between higher education and workforce development has always been a topic of conversation, lingering perceptions have existed that the two more often than not, operate in separate domains. However, there is growing evidence that higher education and workforce development are slowly coming closer together to create productive synergies.


This is primarily due to the changing demands of workforce needs across our nation and more regionally, coupled with a constituency that seeks higher education with an expectation there will be a significant return of investment. This return of investment is generally measured in terms of obtaining gainful employment and all that implies for improving quality of life. Those of us within the enterprise of higher education know that we must exercise caution in creating limiting tracks of employment possibilities through our educational programming. The data of our times indicates that the current generation of learners will switch career tracks multiple times throughout their lives. 


Furthermore, there is strong evidence that a growing segment of our nation’s workforce is earning their living on their own and working in varying levels of isolation, a trend that is only expected to continue growing in the future. In fact, surveys of Gen Z students that currently occupy our classrooms indicate that a growing number of them aspire to own their own business at some point in life. Although the terminology of workforce development has many implications, one that could easily be drawn beyond the need of educating people for specified tasks that occur in the typical workplace, is to provide transferable skills that allow people to move both horizontally and vertically across various work settings.


I recall a meeting with a successful business executive in Sioux Falls who told me that our job at the University was to provide the baseline knowledge and skills necessary to prepare people for employment and that his organization would take care of training them how to actually perform their specified jobs within his particular organization. While some attending the meeting found this commentary to be rather bold, I clearly understood what he was indicating and respected his particular view regarding the overarching role of higher education in workforce development as seen through his lens.


WIN: In what ways are your talent pool development efforts targeted to a variety of diverse populations?


Dr. Brett Bradfield: Over many years at the University, there have been substantive discussions regarding our professional and ethical responsibility to address the needs of diversity in all of its forms. Within the traditional model of the University which is, “Culture for Service,” we embrace our obligation to facilitate the professional and personal development of all students within our institution. The enterprise of education is often viewed as a service delivery system that is built on a one-size-fits-all framework. However, nothing could be further from the truth, especially in the current paradigm of expectations regarding how higher education should improve the quality of one’s life.


Any successful plan for workforce development must take into account the diversity needs of the community. This represents an admittedly lofty goal, but one that could be addressed quite effectively by the diverse higher education opportunities that exist within the community and more regionally.


In the last two years, the University of Sioux Falls accepted the challenge of continuing the Bridges Program that was left without a home when Kilian Community College was unfortunately compelled to close its doors in May 2016. The program is focused on wonderful, hard-working people that have moved into our community with limited English proficiency that often limits employment opportunities. In very recent times, the University has added a technology component to the Bridges Program and as of this month, we proudly have 97 students registered who are fully committed to gain these requisite skills to successfully enter the local workforce. 


The need for such programming will unquestionably continue to grow in our community and the region. If we truly believe that higher education provides a gateway to opportunity, then our enterprise and the community need to even further engage regarding how to make such education and training accessible to all people.


WIN: Does the University of Sioux Falls have a strategic component that deals with workforce development?


Dr. Brett Bradfield: The University has maintained a strong and committed focus on strategic planning for many years. At no time in our history has the need for effective strategic planning been more important to our business and the constituency we serve. The University strategic plan consists of four distinct pillars with goals embedded under each pillar. Under the pillar titled, Plan for Distinctiveness: Prominent Mission and Identity, there is a goal that speaks of our desire to improve the institution’s external visibility. This includes, but is not limited to, public relations and productive connections with organizations and community activities.


Under another pillar titled, Plan for Excellence: Quality Academic and Co-curricular Programs, there is a goal that addresses promotion of customizable and experiential educational experiences, including internships, which link the theoretical constructs learned in the classroom to workforce and community needs. The University believes that the liberal arts portion of its educational program provides the framework for transferable skills previously mentioned, yet it is also equipped to provide the professional licensure and certifications required to enter the workforce in specified areas of expertise. Last year, of our graduates who remained in South Dakota, 87% indicated remaining to work within a 30-mile radius of Sioux Falls. The University of Sioux Falls certainly recognizes and embraces its connection and role in workforce development to support the community and region that also supports its existence.


WIN: How does USF actively partner with companies and industries to maximize opportunity for students?


Dr. Brett Bradfield: Last year, the University proudly accepted its plaque recognizing the institution as a 110-year founding member of the Chamber of Commerce. The University takes its namesake seriously and recognizes its need to be a contributing member to the quality of life in Sioux Falls and the surrounding region. To this end, the University embraces opportunities to work closely with companies and industries in a variety of ways. In fact, the University actively seeks partnerships that provide mutual benefits and authentically addresses our Culture for Service motto. It is widely recognized that higher education can no longer afford to operate in silos that tend to restrict the possibility of synergistic relationships. 


The University currently works with various businesses in the community for the purpose of providing internships, some of which have scholarships and/or salary included as part of the internship experience. For the University, the students are afforded tremendous opportunities to expand their own professional and personal development, while the larger institution reaps the benefit of positive outreach into the community. In many ways, it represents a sort of ambassadorship program for the University of Sioux Falls as we send our best and brightest into the community to learn, work, and serve. For the employers, it is a wonderful opportunity to meet prospective future employees. We do likewise with other service agencies in the community. It is an endeavor that fits well with our intended strategic direction as a Christian, liberal arts University.  


WIN: What elements do you think are most important in creating a labor force—and fulfilled workers—in the decades ahead?


Dr. Brett Bradfield: I suspect that there will be varying opinions on this particular topic since it has the quality measure of addressing how we define fulfilled workers and furthermore, how to effectively project future workforce needs. Individual opportunity for obtaining fulfilling employment usually requires a baseline set of knowledge, skills, and dispositional traits.  With this in mind, higher education in any form has a lofty challenge regarding how to best equip our students to seek fulfillment in their employment on an individual basis, while remaining mindful that this fulfillment factor may shift and change over time. Hence, the need for an educational experience that allows horizontal and vertical movement across various work settings. While I realize that my particular role at the University of Sioux Falls can convey a bias, I know that our Christian, liberal arts identity effectively addresses all three components of knowledge, skills, and dispositional attributes. 


When I speak to prospective students and their parents, I inform them that through our overarching accreditation and various professional accreditations, we will assure them high quality preparation for professions and positions requiring specified certifications and/or licensure. However, I further inform them that the Christian, liberal arts portion of their education will develop and enhance their primary skills in oral and written communication, problem-solving, collaboration, critical thinking, entrepreneurialism and other critical areas, Furthermore, it will challenge them to consider how they effectively seek and nurture positive and productive relationships in all facets of their lives and ponder possibilities they had perhaps never considered. In this explanation, it seems clear that a major task before all of us is to ensure people consider their own workforce development as an evolving process with no real starting or ending point, but rather a continuous cycle of education and training throughout their working lifetime.


In order to remain fulfilled and nimble for changes in the workforce, one must also be equipped to consider other possibilities and the urgency of remaining committed to education as it pertains to moving within the radically changing needs of the workforce. 

Workforce Training: The Sioux Falls Advantage

There is better training for our workforce in Sioux Falls. A multitude of options are available to meet businesses' needs at the postsecondary level including city programs, state grants, technical training, and a new $50 million scholarship program for technical school students.

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