New and retrained workers need a way to prove their skills, argues a new ACT report, Breaking New Ground, which calls for building a national workforce skills credentialing system.
Currently, credentialing is “crowded, chaotic and confusing,” ACT claims. Many certificates “are not portable (between institutions, employers or states), transferable or stackable so that they fit within a defined career pathway.”
The U.S. has plenty of low-skilled workers and just enough college graduates to fill jobs requiring a four-year degree, the report concludes. The challenge is to close the “middle-skills gap.”
By 2014, approximately 45 percent of all jobs will fall in this category, but only 25 percent of the workforce will be qualified to successfully perform these jobs.
About 90 million Americans — roughly half the U.S. workforce — need more education, training or English fluency to earn enough to support a family, ACT estimates.
Across all industries, employers report increasing demands for skills in problem solving and critical thinking, communication, teamwork, entrepreneurship and business. Skills and credentials in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) will continue to be in high demand, impacting requirements at all levels of the workforce.
The U.S. is falling behind our competitors in degree attainment, as President Obama has stressed. About 39 percent of adults have completed a two-year or four-year degree, a proportion that has been flat for nearly 30 years.
ACT adds another problem: An increasing number of individuals are earning degrees that do not prepare them for 21st-century jobs. Most adults realize they need advanced skills to earn a living, but don’t know how to “create an achievable personal career plan.”
A key recommendation of the report is the need for a “layered” credentialing system, recognized nationally, that begins with a single foundational skills credential with increasingly more-targeted occupational and job-specific skills credentials layered on top.
Some community and technical colleges have designed career pathways that let students acquire job credentials en route to higher-level certificates or an occupational associate degree. Certificates Count, a report by Complete College America, also recommends more layered or “stackable” certificates.