Will 4-year schools help fill skills gap?

Angel Gavidia worked low-skills jobs. He tried community college, but dropped out after a year.  Then he discovered a learn-and-earn partnership linking an IT-services company called Atrion with classes at Community College of Rhode Island, reports Jon Marcus of Hechinger Report.

The year-long program, in which Gavidia was paid to work as an apprentice at Atrion while taking on-campus courses in networking and other IT subjects, gave him the kind of real-world skills employers say they want but often can’t find in college graduates.

Gavidia, who now works full-time at Atrion as an associate engineer, says it was the apprenticeship part of the program that taught him not just theoretical knowledge, but skills he could actually use on the job. “I came into this position feeling like, we didn’t learn this in school, and we should have,” he said.

Community colleges have a long history of job training partnerships with employers, but universities are slow to adapt to employers’ needs, writes Marcus.

Eduardo Padrón runs Miami Dade College, the second-largest U.S. higher-education institution with more than 174,000 students.

“What I hear from business leaders who come to us is that the universities place before them all kinds of excuses,” said Padrón, whose institution has hundreds of partnerships with business. The universities “want to take three years to put a program together, and then they have all these excuses for not doing it the right way. It’s part of a tradition that’s not changing with time,” he said.

Corporations such as Farmers Insurance Group, Dunkin’ Donuts and Walt Disney World, do their own college-level training and education. Many others partner with community colleges on workforce development.

A growing number of jobs reuire “middle skills” — a certificate or associate degree, but not a bachelor’s degree.  ”Nearly half of all jobs in the U.S. now require an associate degree — a greater proportion than call for a bachelor’s degree,” reports Marcus.

However,  few CEOs or policymakers attended community colleges, points out Karen Elzey, director of  Skills for America’s Future. “They’re four-year grads. All the people they know are four-year grads. They don’t have experience with community colleges.”