Aligning Jobs And Training

Jobs requiring only an associate degree or skills certificate are projected to grow slightly faster than those requiring at least a bachelor’s degree in the coming decade, according to a new report from President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisors.

The report comes on the eve of a massive federal plan President Obama is about to unveil to help America’s community colleges. An early draft included billions for job training, low-interest loans for building projects and other funding streams to create free online courses.

Though prior research shows that the attainment of any community college credential can significantly increase one’s income, not all degrees and certificates awarded by two-year institutions were found to have the same financially beneficial value. The Council of Economic Advisors’ report finds “that the most valuable credentials are those in quantitatively-oriented fields or high-growth/high-need occupations such as health care.”

The latest projections from the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, which break down industry growth by sector, seem to indicate that the economies of 2008 and 2016 will look somewhat similar. For example, the government, retail and financial services sectors are projected to remain relatively static during the next eight years. Health and education services, however, are projected to “contribute most substantially to job growth in the future.” So-called “green jobs” are also projected to experience a noticeable growth in the near term.

The report argues that America’s community colleges could do more to direct today’s students to these high-demand jobs of the future.

“We need to be aligning curricula with skills that employers really need and want,” said Christina Romer, chair of the Council of Economic Advisors and economics professor at the University of California at Berkeley, in an interactive videoconference Monday. “That’ll be something that’ll really help displaced workers.”

To help create more “occupationally focused” curricula, the report argues that more institutions should consider the creation of middle colleges, or programs that allow students to earn college credit while still enrolled in high school. It also maintains that “career pathway” or “career cluster” programs need to be in place prior to college to help students “generate marketable skills” that can later be “linked to the demands of a specific job.”

The report argues that training programs should also provide “flexible” schedules and “adequate levels of support services” for working and other nontraditional students.

Washington State’s Integrated Basic Education and Skills Training program, an initiative aimed at helping “underserved students,” was cited as an exemplar. Both literacy and skills training are taught in conjunction within this model. For instance, the report notes, a “student in a nursing program might learn technical medical language, while having an English instructor on hand to aid in general vocabulary.”

In conclusion, the report chides the federal job training system for being too complicated.
Certain educational programs that are achieving some level of success, such as the model in Washington State, often cannot easily gain government funding “because basic skills and occupational training are funded under different streams, each with its own requirements and restrictions.” This cumbersome process, the report argues, “discourages the creation of new, more effective, training models.”

“While it is easy to identify the need to simplify, it is a far greater challenge to streamline in a way that improves efficiency, maintain accountability, and reduces duplication of services but does not undermine the effective targeting of resources to populations in need,” the report reads. “Nevertheless, it is crucial to the design of new, more effective, training models.” (Inside Higher Ed)

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