$8 billion for ‘community career centers’

An $8 billion Community College to Career Fund will reward colleges that partner with local employers to train 2 million workers for high-demand, well-paying jobs in advanced manufacturing, information technology, health care and “green” tech. That’s if President Obama persuades Congress to pass his budget.  In a speech at Northern Virginia Community College yesterday, the president linked “America’s comeback” to investing in education.  “We can’t just cut our way into growth,” he said.

A key component of the community college plan would institute “pay for performance” in job training, meaning there would be financial incentives to ensure that trainees find permanent jobs – particularly for programs that place individuals facing the greatest hurdles getting work. It also would promote training of entrepreneurs, provide grants for state and local government to recruit companies, and support paid internships for low-income community college students.

Despite the recession, some high-tech industries report shortages of skilled workers. As the economy recovers and baby boomers retire, there will be 2 million job openings in manufacturing through 2018, according to the Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown. But there’s a catch, reports AP.

. . . these types of jobs frequently require the ability to operate complicated machinery and follow detailed instructions, as well as some expertise in subjects like math and statistics.

. . . Mark Schneider, the former U.S. commissioner of education statistics who now serves as vice president at the American Institutes for Research, said there’s no doubt that high-tech companies need skilled workers. But he said there are challenges with leaning heavily on community colleges. Many students enter community colleges lacking math skills. The sophisticated equipment needed for training is expensive, and there’s little known about the effectiveness of individual community colleges programs across the country, he said.

In particular, “green” job training programs have produced disappointing results.

Community colleges have been partnering with industry on job training for many years. “Community colleges understand the needs of local employers,” said Labor Secretary Hilda Solis in a White House press conference yesterday. The fund would allow colleges to hire staff, buy equipment and develop curriculum, she said.  (I wanted to ask why taxpayers should fund training for employers, but I was too far back in the phone queue.)

“We will give community colleges the resources they need to become community career centers,” said Education Secretary Arne Duncan, echoing President Obama’s line from the State of the Union speech.  We will create “an America built to last,” said Duncan. Also “an economy built to last.” And a workforce “built to last.”

President Obama’s past budgets have been “rife with unfilled promises” to community colleges, notes Inside Higher Ed.


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