Colleges should create programs for middle-skilled workers
- By identifying job market needs and creating micro programs around skills required for middle-skill jobs, colleges and universities could help middle-skilled workers increase their earning potential, while at the same time creating a lucrative new revenue stream for the institution, says Matt Sigelman, CEO of Burning Glass Technologies in a recent Q&A with evolllution.com.
- Increasingly, middle-skilled jobs, which Sigelman describes as those needing north of a high school diploma and south of a four-year degree, require some form of specialized training. Boot camps and online certificate programs are popping up all over, but the value of those certificates still is uncertain, he warns.
- Higher education institutions, which are trusted brands, should identify areas in their offerings that help people acquire specific skills, then pull those courses or trainings out of a broader program and package them for the job market, Sigelman suggests. By identifying the big needs in the job market and pinpointing ways their existing programming can be repurposed to meet those needs, universities and colleges could use a boot camp-like framework within which middle-skilled workers can scale themselves up, acquiring skills quickly and more affordably, he says.
Many education and political leaders agree with the idea that colleges and universities need to increase flexibility and opportunity in an effort to keep students coming through their doors. They understand that more than 65% of jobs are expected to require some form of higher education — but not necessarily a bachelor’s degree — by 2020.
The New York Times notes the National Skills Coalition, a nonprofit organization, calculates that middle-skill jobs — in computer technology, health care, construction, high-skill manufacturing and other fields — account for 54% of the labor market, but only 44% of workers are sufficiently trained.
Faced with the skills gap, employers are increasingly working with community colleges to provide students with both an academic education and the development of specific hands-on skills sets. John Deere, for example, designed a curriculum and donated farm equipment to several community colleges to train technicians for its dealer network.
The idea of more specialized training fits into President Donald Trump’s push for more vocational training and apprenticeship programs. Last June, Trump signed an executive order to increase the number of U.S. apprenticeships from the current 500,000 by doubling the amount the government spends on apprenticeship programs. In announcing the plan, Trump touted a new task force aimed at helping to foster apprenticeship programs that develop skills needed for millions of unfilled jobs. He called for relaxed requirements for apprenticeship programs and strong input from employers.
Critics say the announcement doesn’t jive with the deep cuts laid out in his proposed budget, which slashes Labor Department funding by 21% and guts training and employment services aimed at getting unemployed Americans back to work. Others say community and technical colleges already provide many of the training programs Trump proposed. But as both the Trump administration and members of Congress place an increasing emphasis on higher education as a workforce development tool, it is incumbent upon leaders in higher education to work more closely with industry leaders to unbundle degree programs and address workforce needs. Not only does public perception depend on such collaboration, but public funding — and it opens the doors to the potential of increased private investment as well.