Arne Duncan, our current U.S. Secretary of Education, recently was quoted as saying, “Improving educational achievement for your students is not just a moral issue, it is a national imperative, to ensure the economic vitality and the national security of the United States.”
While our education system has made some progress over recent years, we’re finding today that student skills are not always aligned with employer expectations. Through the leadership of governors, state and local school administrators, and educators, many states have made progress, but we find ourselves playing catch up.
In talking with local employers recently, I learned that many of their job applicants were previously displaced by layoffs and downsizing, resulting in loss of jobs. In many instances, the displaced employees looking for current job openings find themselves “over qualified.” But notice the conundrum. What does “over qualified” mean? Today’s job seekers may have advanced “degrees” and may be a college graduate, but lack the specific technical skills the employer is looking for.
Employability skills are general skills necessary for success in the current labor market at all levels, and in all job sectors. These skills can be taught through the educational and workforce development systems and fall into three broad categories:
1. Applied Knowledge, the thoughtful integration of academic knowledge and technical skills put to practical use in the workplace.
2. Effective Relationships, the interpersonal skills and personal qualities that enable individuals to interact effectively with clients, coworkers and supervisors.
3. Workplace Skills, the analytical and organizational skills and knowledge that employees need to successfully perform work tasks. (See Employability Skills Framework http://cte.ed.gov)
What do new workers in entry-level jobs need to be able to do?
1. New workers need to have basic communication skills that include active listening, reading with understanding, observing critically and speaking so others can understand what you are trying to communicate. Making eye contact and body language is a key component of communication.
2. Successful job applicants must possess interpersonal skills which lead to cooperation with others in the workplace and resolution of conflict through basic negotiations.
3. New employees must possess good decision-making skills. Good decisions are made by looking at all the available data, conferring and collaborating with key stakeholders, obtaining expert opinion, evaluating pros and cons of various options, and then making a decision based on choosing the best option.
4. Successful employees will engage in lifelong learning and continuing education to remain up-to-date on the latest information available. This is especially true today as our knowledge base grows exponentially over very short time periods.
In the current and future job market, successful job seekers must be willing to return to school, close knowledge/skill gaps, and re-train in order to obtain gainful employment. Post-secondary schools and training programs must offer individuals seeking to improve skills and knowledge the flexibility of online classes, certifications in specific skills, and night and weekend classes. For too long, many parents and educators have basically provided two options for high school graduates. Either enter the workforce immediately upon graduation with a high school diploma or enter a bachelor’s degree program at a four-year school. There are additional options and we must explore all viable options before making critical career decisions affecting one’s career choices.
for career development
It’s estimated there are currently 29 million “middle” jobs representing 21 percent of all jobs in the United States that pay $35,000 or more on average and don’t require a bachelor’s degree according to a recent report from Georgetown University Public Policy Institute. These are jobs that require education and training beyond high school, but less than a bachelor’s degree. The education and training programs that prepare Americans for these jobs are often referred to as career and technical education (CTE).
There are five career and technical education pathways that educate and train job seekers for these “middle jobs”:
1. Earn an associate’s degree in a skilled technical field.
2. Earn a post-secondary certificate in a specific skill.
3. Obtain an industry-based certification.
4. Take advantage of employer-based training
5. Participate in an apprenticeship.
These pathways are not mutually exclusive and are often integrated and may overlap. CTE is sometimes referred to by some as the education and training that “pays along the way” to college or a degree program making this more affordable for students and families. Many students in CTE are able to work while enrolled in school. CTE is more career- and skill-focused than typical four-year degree programs and consists of relevant knowledge, applied learning and specific skills comprising the core of study.
Community colleges have a number of characteristics that make them highly effective economic development engines with the potential to play a central role in preparing the workforce that employers are looking for. Their open-door policy makes them available to students of all educational and economic backgrounds. Campuses are usually smaller and offer friendly, safe environments. Typically, their tuition rates are often much lower than their four-year and/or private counterparts.
Many community colleges are flexible enough to develop and offer programs much more quickly than four-year colleges, allowing for nimble adjustments to the changes in the marketplace — an asset that serves both employers and students well.
Many parents and students alike have discovered the value and practicality of entering the post-secondary track toward an advanced degree in community colleges. Earning an associate’s degree from a community college provides a sound foundation for either finding work upon graduation, or perhaps advancing and transferring to another school to complete a four-year bachelor’s degree.
Post-secondary Certificates are an American invention and our adapted version of the European apprenticeship track. Certificate programs are rapidly expanding in the U.S. and are focused on preparing individuals for more narrow occupations and fields. They often take less time to complete and certification may be awarded with less than a year of instructional time depending on the field of study.
For example, those workers who have obtained computer/information services certificates can, in some instances, earn over $72,000 annually.
Nationally, the top certifications accompanying a high school diploma are 1) Certified Nursing Assistant; 2) Commercial Drivers License; 3) Phlebotomy; 4) Basic Cardiac Life Support; and 5) Licensed Practical Nurse.
The top certifications with associate’s degrees are 1) Licensed Practical Nurse; 2) Basic Cardiac Life Support; 3) Certified Nursing Assistant; 4) Occupational Therapist; and 5) Advanced Cardiac Life Support (ACLS).
Apprenticeships are training programs that combine paid, supervised, on-the-job learning experience with related academic instruction. They are usually cost-effective and offer a demand-driven, employer-sponsored method for providing individuals with basic post-secondary education and career skills.
The construction industry currently offers the most apprenticeships in the U.S. The economy is down, but welding jobs, machinists and maintenance workers are still in high demand.
The U.S. Labor Department in September suggested that an anticipated mass retiring of baby boomers could pinch the industry’s supply of qualified welders. In fact, the American Welding Society believes the shortage could grow to 400,000 within the next three years.
The number of certified welders has declined in recent years, meaning the companies who have them are at a clear advantage.