No community college, no future

Without a local community college, Erie County, Pennsylvania is losing industry and skilled jobs,writes Mandy Zatynski on Education Sector. Industry won’t invest until Erie invests in training its younger generation.

GE Transportation decided to open a new locomotive plant in Fort Worth in 2011, rather than expanding in Erie, which lost 1,050 jobs. A Forth Worth community college will train machinists and welders in four weeks for jobs in the new factory.

Erie has long fallen short in providing the sort of high-tech training a corporation like GE requires. Recently, 220 employers who responded to an Erie Regional Chamber and Growth Partnership survey said they had almost 2,000 open jobs, but lacked enough skilled workers to fill them. Destination Erie, a consortium formed to revitalize the area’s economy, has already identified this jobs-skills mismatch as one of the region’s top roadblocks to economic growth.

GE will lay off 950 machinists, many with only on-the-job training, adding to the county’s unemployment rate.  But laid-off workers have few postsecondary options other than pursuing a bachelor’s degree.  Many of the 2,000 open jobs don’t require a four-year degree, but do require the kind of training community colleges provide.

More than 41 percent of Erie workers conclude their education with a high school diploma, in part because of “the limited and overpriced post-secondary options that cater only to those seeking white-collar work,” writes Zatynski.

 Penn State Behrend and Mercyhurst University officials are turning more attention to two-year programs, but for the average displaced worker, the costs of these programs are often prohibitive. Annual tuition at Behrend reaches almost $14,000 per year, and tuition at Mercyhurst is the highest in the county at $29,037. Its North East campus charges about half as much, but for someone who is unemployed, these are simply not realistic prices.

The county’s six for-profit colleges advertise attractive educational programs for health care and information technology, but these schools are graduating students with unmanageable debt. Student loan default rates among the area’s for-profit schools are as high as 31 percent, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, indicating that these graduates are unable to find sufficient work to repay their loans.

In short, none of the educational offerings in Erie County provides the flexibility or affordability of a community college, an option that Erie County Council dismissed in 2010 even though the state had allocated table games revenue to help start such an institution.

“When International Paper closed its plant (in 2001), a county-commissioned report spelled economic doom if leaders didn’t establish a community college or otherwise invest in its workforce,” Zatynski writes. “Twelve years later, the picture looks even worse.”

Auto workers retool — or exit middle class

A high school graduate, Anthony Oliveri earned $30 an hour building cars at NUMMI’s Fremont, California plant, until he was laid off in 2010 along with 4,700 other unionized auto workers. He now earns $12.80 an hour as a security guard patrolling high-tech campuses. It’s a different story for Greg Bostick, who studied machine technology at Oakland’s Laney College after the layoff and found work as a quality inspector.

More than a third of the Bay Area’s manufacturing jobs have vanished in the last 20 years. New manufacturing jobs require technical training and skills that old-style factory workers didn’t need, reports the San Jose Mercury News.

“When my father was around, working in manufacturing, he had a sixth-grade education,” says Jose Anaya, the initiative director of the Centers for Applied Competitive Technologies, based at El Camino College in Hawthorne. “He got a job and that’s because they valued hard work and they valued brute strength. Now that isn’t so much needed. They’re looking for a higher set of skills.”

Modern Bay Area manufacturers are small operations producing electronic and medical devices. Workers need “computer skills, problem-solving savvy, the ability to talk to designers and customers and to understand their concepts, and a willingness to retrain in order to make next big thing.”

“Twenty or 30 years ago you could have a high school degree and you could expect to get a job in a pretty stable industry and maybe have a one-earner family,” says Doug Henton, CEO of Collaborative Economics in San Mateo. Now, “it’s a more challenging time. You might need a couple of years beyond high school and even then you might need two incomes to support a family.”

The Manufacturers Institute estimates 600,000 jobs in advanced manufacturing are unfilled. The Boston Consulting Group estimates 100,000, but predicts the gap will grow. The average age of skilled manufacturing workers — machinists, welders, mechanics — is 56.

Tesla bought the NUMMI plant to make electric cars, but it’s hired only a few hundred laid-off NUMMI workers. Tesla’s highly automated factory needs fewer, more highly skilled workers.

After completing Laney’s two-year machine technology program, Bostick  found  a job at a machine shop through a Laney instructor. He now works there part-time and works full-time at a second job, where he uses computer programs and sophisticated tools to inspect parts. With extra work hours, he makes almost as much as he did at NUMMI, where he earned $29 an hour plus overtime. “There are really no blue-collar jobs in California that you can make that kind of money and have no skills,” Bostick says. “I don’t know of any.”

Retraining is tough for ex-steelworkers

When RG Steel closed in Baltimore, laying off 2,000 well-paid steelworkers, Community College of Baltimore County offered workers a chance to retool. But college was a tough sell, reports the Chronicle of Higher Education. “It’s a group of men who think college is for other people,” says Brian Penn, who runs the college’s heating, ventilating, air-conditioning, and energy technology program.

Generous government education benefits were enough to erase some people’s doubts about whether they belonged. But the paperwork and red tape between students and their tuition assistance prompted some to quit before they had even begun.

To get federal benefits, workers had to become full-time college students, an “intimidating” step, says Jesse Kessinger, who ran the college’s outreach. They had to untangle complex, conflicting county, state, federal and college requirements.

About 170, fewer than 10 percent of the final group of RG Steel employees, have signed up for classes so far. Those who have enrolled favor programs in truck driving, air-conditioning repair, welding and surgical technology.

Ronald Knauff, a third-generation steel man, completed a basic certificate in heating and air-conditioning repair. But the Department of Labor was late with his paperwork, so he missed the deadline for the advanced air-conditioning class. With only a basic certificate, he’s applied for 100 jobs with no success. Employers say they want experience even for entry-level jobs. He’s starting a welding program next month.

Natalie Dowell, who spent 16 years at RG Steel, most recently as a crane operator, is taking an eight-month program to learn how to disinfect, sterilize, and package surgical instruments. She’s optimistic about her job prospects, but won’t match her old pay of up to $23 an hour.

Bobby Curran hoped to earn an associate degree in chemical-dependency counseling, but he struggled with English and algebra classes. Three weeks into the semester, he gave up. Instead, he plans to train as a building-maintenance technician at North American Trade School, a for-profit that’s recruited 52 ex-steelworkers.

The course sounded reassuringly familiar to Mr. Curran—less intimidating than a community college, with its academic orientation and vast array of certificate, degree, and continuing-education choices. His buddies’ program covers how to fix air-conditioning and heating units, lay bricks, build roofs: “everything from A to Z about working on a house,” he says, encouraged.

The trade school markets its programs as a way to get back to work as quickly as possible, says John Meissner, director of admissions.

Older, remedial students strain Florida colleges

Older, returning students who require remediation are straining Florida’s community colleges, reports the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting. From 2004 to 2011, Florida’s remedial education costs rose from $118 million to $168 million. The vast majority of “developmental” students have been out of school for at least a year or two: In the 2010-11 school year, 85 percent of students taking remedial classes were age 20 or older.

The recession accelerated the trend.

Laid-off workers and those . . . who want to train for new lines of work or bolster their résumés, have been flooding onto college campuses. It isn’t just the weak job market that has been encouraging them to do this. The federal government is providing record amounts of financial aid.

Most have rusty academic skills, especially in math. Four of every five first-year, full-time students over 20 had to take remedial math courses. For those 35 and older, the rate increased to 90 percent.

Hunter R. Boylan, director of the National Center for Developmental Education, says older students’ need for remedial math is natural. “You read every day, but when was the last time someone said, ‘Excuse me, Can you help me solve a polynomial equation?’ ” Boylan said. “It’s a skill that atrophies quickly and because it is not used regularly, it goes away.”

President Obama has promoted easier access to education for disadvantaged students and expanded Pell Grants by more than $15 billion. In Florida, the number of students receiving federal financial aid and taking remedial classes more than doubled from 2007 to 2011.

Older students taking remedial courses said the availability of financial aid was a determining factor in deciding to go to college.

José Ramos is one of them. Ramos is a phlebotomist — that’s the person who takes blood samples for health tests. A Pell Grant enabled Ramos, 46, to pursue a nursing degree at St. Petersburg College. “Being the only provider in a household and for what I make, you can’t survive and go to school,” said Ramos, a father of four. “Normally, right now, I wouldn’t be in school. I’d be working two jobs supporting my family and not able to see my son grow up like I did my daughter.”

. . . Financial aid allowed Ramos to reduce his hours at work and concentrate on his studies. But his education has also taken longer than he anticipated due to his need for remedial math. Ramos didn’t score high enough in math on the entrance exam to take college-level algebra.

Patricia Smith, who oversees the campus learning lab, says many older students don’t make it through the remedial sequence. A 2007 state analysis estimated half of remedial students drop out before qualifying for college-level classes. The rate is higher for older students, instructors say. In some cases, laid-off workers find new jobs. In others, students are pulled away from college by family problems, part-time jobs and, for veterans, post-traumatic stress disorder.

Older students who stick with it are “more focused,” says Smith. “They will help bring up the younger students in the class and actually act as nurturers and be great role models for younger students.”


Job training fails without jobs

President Obama touts job retraining at community colleges to enable laid-off workers to close the “skills gap.” Mitt Romney agrees that job retraining is the answer.  But job training may not help — in fact, it may hurt — if there are few jobs in the local economy, writes Amy Goldstein for Pro Publica.

When the GM factory closed in Janesville, Wisconsin,  Blackhawk Technical College stepped up to the challenge.

 . . .  instead of preparing some students to go on to universities, (Blackhawk) offers only vocational programs, teaching its students to be welders, IT specialists, and medical lab technicians, and to go into advanced manufacturing – precisely the skills that Obama has been touting for retraining programs. As the president and others urge two-year colleges to become partners with local businesses, to try to navigate laid-off workers into fields in which jobs are most likely to exist, Blackhawk already has been doing that for years.

. . . Trying to allay the anxiety of workers coming back to school, the college held a community picnic for families with games for the children and a chance for the adults to talk with deans and instructors over hamburgers and hot dogs. It added 88 class sections, hired extra instructors, borrowed financial aid officers from other schools and, when it ran out of classrooms, added Saturday sessions.

About one-third of workers who lost jobs in the recession have pursued some form of retraining—at two-year colleges and elsewhere— Goldstein estimates. But research on job retraining’s effectiveness is “thin and mixed.” A large federal study found displaced workers who trained under the Workforce Investment Act took years to catch up with similar people who hadn’t gone back to school.

In Janesville, the laid-off workers who took job training classes at Blackhawk are working less and earning less than their laid-off co-workers who didn’t go back to school.

Those who didn’t retrain saw their pay fall by 8 percent. Retrained workers who found jobs lost 36 percent of their former paychecks.

One possibility is that the laid-off people best able to get another job did, while those who were less desirable to employers went to Blackhawk. Or it could be that the advantages from retraining are just slow to materialize . . .

Another possibility is that people who didn’t invest a year or two in education snapped up jobs that were gone by the time those who went to Blackhawk began searching for work.

“If you don’t have enough jobs….you cannot train your way to victory,” Laura Dresser, a University of Wisconsin labor economist told Goldstein.

Only a third of dislocated workers who enrolled at Blackhawk managed to graduate, but graduates were no more likely to be working than drop-outs.  (Some people dropped out to take a job offer.)

Blackhawk used a $2 million federal grant to create a special program for 125 students. The college-ready were steered into training for information technology or clinical lab technology, both considered high-demand fields. Remedial students spent a semester in class learning basic skils with lots of tutoring and “handholding.” Then they got 10 weeks of training to earn a certificate to work as a nursing assistant or welder, or in business.

Graduates in clinical lab technology and welding are finding jobs, but overall Blackhawk students who studied in high-demand fields are no more likely to be working than other students. One ex-factory worker earned an IT degree, but discovered there’s no need for IT specialists in Janesville. He’s working in a grocery store deli.

Years ago, when I reported on welfare-to-work programs for the San Jose Mercury News, I learned that welfare recipients who were pushed into entry-level jobs worked more and earned more several years later compared to similar people sent to education or training programs. “Work first” became the mantra of welfare reform. You’d think job retraining would be more effective for laid-off workers, who have lots of work experience already.  But not if they’re training for nonexistent jobs.

Employment surges for community college grads

Employment is surging for community college graduates as demand ramps up for operators of computerized factory machines, heating and air conditioning repair people, X-ray technicians, medical records specialists and low- to midlevel managers, reports USA Today.

Many laid-off workers have turned to community colleges and vocational schools in recent years to rapidly retool for new careers. That has helped boost enrollment by 14.6% since 2007, vs. 1.3% the previous five years, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

By contrast, many recent four-year college graduates have struggled to find work. “I think the two-year schools are offering more of an applicable, practical value,” says Thomas Ruhe, vice president of the Kauffman Foundation, which studies entrepreneurship. Many community colleges, he says, have better ties to local employers.

New workers with associate degrees in technical fields may earn more than people with non-technical bachelor’s degrees.

College enrollments are down slightly

College enrollment declined by .2 percent in the fall of 2011 — the first drop in 15 years — according to preliminary U.S. Education Department data.

Enrollment dipped 2.23 percent at community colleges and 7 percent at for-profit two-year programs.

During recessions, laid-off workers often enroll in college to learn new skills or wait for the economy to improve, notes Inside Higher Ed.

So it’s possible that enrollments are leveling off (and shrinking slightly) now because the economy had begun rebounding enough by fall 2011 that some of those who had flocked to higher education during the recession began finding jobs. It’s also possible that college tuition levels — which have continued to rise in recent years, driven in part by cutbacks in state support and other traditional sources of colleges’ revenue — are pricing more students out of higher education.

According to the new data, fewer whites are in college, but more minorities.  Latino enrollment is up 6.42 percent.

For-profit colleges have lost students in the face of scrutiny about graduation rates, graduates’ job prospects and loan defaults.

The community college decline could be linked to long wait lists at California community colleges.

The drop in community college enrollment could be “the canary in the coal mine . . . a sign that higher education is losing its ability to serve as the primary vehicle for economic mobility,” warns Joni Finney, a Penn education professor, on The Quick and the Ed.  “It is hard to imagine that increased employment opportunities are the cause” of the shift from full-time to part-time studies, she writes.

After the auto plant closed …

PBS will air As Goes Janesville this evening.The documentary includes a profile of Cynthia Deegan, a laid-off assembly-line worker who enrolled in a Wisconsin community college to train as a medical lab technician.

When 30 factories closed near Janesville, Wisconsin, laid-off workers turned to Blackhawk Technical College for training in high-demand jobs,writes Sharon Kennedy, the college’s chief academic officer, in Community College Times.

Most hadn’t done well in high school and were nervous about returning to the classroom. Many struggled with family pressures. While some said their families complained they spent too much time on their studies, others said “their children were studying more because homework had become a family affair.”

Less-skilled workers face bleak prospects

It’s bad out there — very bad — for laid-off workers seeking new jobs, reports the New York Times. Only 7 percent of people who’ve lost jobs in recent years have regained their previous incomes and lifestyles, concludes a study released Friday by the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers. Fifteen percent believe their drastically reduced incomes probably will be permanent.

Though unemployment fell to 8.6 percent in November, most of that came from people leaving the workforce. Employers added only 120,000 jobs. Less-skilled workers — especially men — ave been hit very hard.

After 22 years on the job, (Bill) Loftis, 44, was laid off from a company that produces air filters and valves in Sterling Heights, Mich., three years ago. . . .

Despite applying for more than 100 jobs, he has been unable to find work. He has drained most of his 401(k) retirement fund, amassed credit card debt, and is about to sell his car, a 2006 Dodge Charger. “It’s looking hopeless,” he said.

“The news is strikingly bad,” said Cliff Zukin, a professor of public policy and political science at Rutgers who compiled the study.

What is Happening to America’s Less-Skilled Workers?, a project of Brookings’ Hamilton Project, looks at the importance of education and training, especially for men without a college degree.

The employment rate for male high school graduates has fallen from 96 percent in 1970 to only 75 percent today, as shown below. Median annual earnings are just $26,000 today—about half of the $50,000 the median man with a high school diploma brought home forty years ago.

Workers with only a high school degree now earn about 20 percent less than high-school graduates did 40 years ago.

A Hamilton Project forum advocated two approaches to job training:

Raising Job Quality and Skills for American Workers calls for $2 billion in competitive grants to fund job training for 250,000 disadvantaged workers each year. Community and technical colleges would collaborate with employers to train workers for jobs in well-paid sectors such as truck driving or nursing.

Policies to Reduce High-Tenured Displaced Workers’ Earnings Losses through Retraining focuses on helping experienced workers transition to new careers that pay well.


Jobless seek hurry-up training

Laid-off workers want short-term retraining that will get them back in the workforce quickly, St. Louis Community College discovered when it surveyed local employers and workers.  Ford and Chrysler had closed local auto plants; General Motors had cut back to one shift. Retraining was an urgent mission, reports Community College Week.

The survey reached 1,500 employers and 400 displaced workers: 63 percent of workers said they wanted training lasting two to eight weeks; only 14 percent wanted long-term training lasting a year or more.

In response, the college created an Accelerated Job Training program, which offers no-cost training for high-demand jobs.

. . .  the lineman pre-apprentice training program prepares students for possible jobs as utility line workers with AmerenUE, an electric utility; the Aerospace Pre-Employment Training Project creates a pool of employee candidates for positions as sheet metal assembler-riveters with Boeing.

The program also trains home energy auditors, home health caregivers, information technology help desk technicians, audio-visual production technicians and potential employers in several other fields where skilled employees are in demand.

Between 2007 and 2010, 66 percent of accelerated trainees have found jobs.

Many of the workers in the accelerated program lack a high school diploma and aren’t ready for college-level work, said Roderick Nunn, vice chancellor for workforce development, at the recent Innovations 2011 Conference sponsored by the League for Innovation in the Community College. That makes it difficult to get students into college-degree pathways.

The college is expanding its Center for Workforce Education and has started a program to train medical intake workers and another to train workers for the Transportation Security Administration.