Tech training is gateway to middle class

College should not be the only gateway to the middle class, writes Robert Reich, who was Bill Clinton’s secretary of Labor, in Salon.  Obsessed with bachelor’s degrees, “we’ve allowed vocational and technical education to be downgraded and denigrated,” he writes. But our economy needs skilled technicians.

As digital equipment replaces the jobs of routine workers and lower-level professionals, technicians are needed to install, monitor, repair, test, and upgrade all the equipment.

Hospital technicians are needed to monitor ever more complex equipment that now fills medical centers; office technicians, to fix the hardware and software responsible for much of the work that used to be done by secretaries and clerks.

Automobile technicians are in demand to repair the software that now powers our cars; manufacturing technicians, to upgrade the numerically controlled machines and 3-D printers that have replaced assembly lines; laboratory technicians, to install and test complex equipment for measuring results; telecommunications technicians, to install, upgrade, and repair the digital systems linking us to one another.

Community colleges train technicians at “bargain” prices, but they’re “systematically starved of funds,” writes Reich.  State legislators “direct most higher-education funding to four-year colleges and universities because that’s what their middle-class constituents want for their kids.”

Business “executives are usually the products of four-year liberal arts institutions and don’t know the value of community colleges,” he adds.

By contrast, Germany provides its students the alternative of a world-class technical education that’s kept the German economy at the forefront of precision manufacturing and applied technology.

The skills taught are based on industry standards, and courses are designed by businesses that need the graduates. So when young Germans get their degrees, jobs are waiting for them.

Young Germans choose a technical or academic track by age 14, writes Reich. Americans wouldn’t go for that.

But we could “combine the last year of high school with the first year of community college” to train technicians, writes Reich.  Employers “would help design the courses and promise jobs” to graduates. Late bloomers could pursue associate or bachelor’s degrees, if they choose.

North Carolina is adding five-year “early college” high schools, such as Wake Early College of Health and Sciences.  Students can graduate with a two-year degree or health science certificate.

IBM helped design New York City’s P-TECH, which adds two years of college-level job training to four years of high school.  IBM will hire graduates who want to go directly to the workforce.

P-TECH in Brooklyn fields a robotics team.

Six is the new four

Brooklyn’s P-Tech is the The School That Is Changing American Education, writes Rana Foroohar in Time. Students can graduate in six years with a high school diploma, an associate degree and a job offer from IBM, which worked with the City University of New York to create the program. “Six should be the new four,” says IBM executive Stanley Litow.

In Chicago, IBM partnered with Richard J. Daley College to open Sarah E. Goode STEM Academy, a six-year program that leads to a $40,0000- a-year IBM job. It’s a ticket to the middle class, writes Forhoohar.

A four-year high school degree these days only guarantees a $15 an hour future, if that. According to projections by the Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University, the U.S. economy will create some 47-million job openings in the decade ending 2018, but nearly two-thirds will require some post secondary education. The Center projects that only 36% of American jobs will be filled by people with only a 4-year high school degree – half of what that number was in the 1970s.

Workers with a vocational associate degree will earn 73% more than those with only a high school diploma, the center projects.

Wal-Mart touts U.S. manufacturing

“After decades of sending work overseas through ruthless price competition,” Wal-Mart is bringing jobs “back to America, by committing to purchase hundreds of billions of dollars more in U.S.-made goods,” reports the Washington Post.

The Wal-Mart Foundation is funding a middle-skill job training initiative of the American Association of Community Colleges.

Mike Rowe of Dirty Jobs narrates a Wal-Mart ad proclaiming “work is a beautiful thing.”

4-year grads turn to 2-year schools for job skills

Underemployed four-year graduates are enrolling in community colleges to learn job skills, reports the Chicago Tribune.

In 2010, Jessica Underwood graduated from Carthage College in Wisconsin “with a stellar academic record, a can-do attitude and a newly minted business degree.” Her bachelor’s degree was “just like a ticket to nowhere,” Underwood told the Trib. Despite sending as many as 10 job applications a day, she found only low-wage, low-skilled office, retail and telemarketing jobs.

 Three years after graduation, Underwood decided that she needed to reboot — and fast. At the College of DuPage, she enrolled in the paralegal certification program, which offered a robust hiring outlook, but also the chance to reinvent herself in only 18 months.

She owes $60,000 in student loans for her business degree.

Illinois community colleges are touting accelerated programs to help the underemployed get a fresh start.

At Prairie State College, the  “Career in a Year” campaign boosted enrollment by 50 percent in programs training home inspectors and dialysis and pharmacy technicians.

Harper College‘s launch of a “fast track” advanced manufacturing program — certification in one semester, followed by a paid internship with a partner company — attracted a standing-room-only crowd.

More than ever, companies want people adept at communicating, critical thinking and problem solving — all hallmarks of a liberal arts education. Studies continue to show that people with a four-year degree earn more, on average, over the course of their lifetime than those without college degrees. But employers say there’s often a mismatch between what traditional colleges are producing and what they need.

“Middle-skills” jobs, which require a certificate or associate degree, can qualify graduates for middle-class paychecks. Demand is high in health care fields, information technology and manufacturing, reports the Tribune.

Rochester college faces a post-Kodak moment

As Eastman Kodak’s slid into bankruptcy, disrupting the economy of Rochester, New York,  Monroe Community College remade its workforce development programs to help its town recover, reports Community College Week.

Kodak, Xerox and Bausch & Lomb once accounted for 60 percent of Rochester’s workforce. That’s now down to 5 percent.

“We went from the Big 3 with thousands of workers to lots of companies with fewer than 100 employees,” says Anne Kress, MCC’s president. Because smaller companies couldn’t afford to train their workers, the college became a “convener,” working with industry clusters instead of individual companies.

“It’s a natural role for community colleges to take a leadership position in responding to workforce development needs,” Kress said. “These needs change frequently. We are naturally positioned to get people around the table to address them.”

Kress tapped Todd M. Oldham, then associate vice president of Corporate & Continuing Education at Clark College in Vancouver, Wash., to head the new workforce division at MCC. His charge: rebuild MCC’s long dormant bridges to business, industry and economic development sectors and develop strategies to respond to local economic development and training needs — all without constructing just another administrative silo isolated from the traditional academic functions of the college.

MCC is creating pathways to middle-skill jobs in fields such as computer technology, health care and advanced manufacturing, Oldham says.

Jim Sydor, a 1971 MCC graduate and owner of Stefan Sydor Optics, is helping the college strengthen its optical systems technology program. “Rochester is a big optics town, because of Eastman Kodak and Bausch & Lomb,” he says. But MCC’s optics program withered when Kodak began laying off workers. Students didn’t realize there are 85 smaller optics companies in town looking for qualified workers. With a $250,000 gift from Sydor, MCC rewrote the optics curriculum, bought new equipment and recruited students.

MCC provides a summer career prep program for high school students as well as MCC Career Coach, a web-based search tool showing connections between areas of study and local job opportunities.

2-year tech degrees pay off

Community-college graduates with technical degrees start work at higher wages than four-year graduates, according to new research,  notes the Hechinger Report.

Berevan Omer graduated on a Friday in February with an associate’s degree from Nashville State Community College and started work the following Monday in his new job as a computer-networking engineer at a local television station, making about $50,000 a year.

That’s 15 percent higher than the average starting salary for graduates not only from community colleges, but for bachelor’s degree holders from four-year universities.

. . . Omer’s friends with bachelor’s degrees “aren’t learning skills,” he says. “They’re just learning all this theory. I’ve got an applied degree. And I’m out there making a good amount of change.”

Workers with bachelor’s degrees may catch up later in their careers, but nearly 30 percent of workers with associate’s degrees earn more than the average for workers with bachelor’s degrees, according to Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce.

“Middle-skill” workers — lab technicians, computer engineers, draftsmen, radiation therapists, paralegals and machinists — don’t need a four-year degree to earn middle-class wages.

“A good technical-oriented associate’s degree program at a good community college is actually turning out graduates whose skills meet the needs of the regional labor market,” says Mark Schneider, vice president of the American Institutes for Research.

 With a two-year community-college degree, air-traffic controllers can make $113,547, radiation therapists $76,627, dental hygienists $70,408, nuclear medicine technologists $69,638, nuclear technicians $68,037, registered nurses $65,853, and fashion designers $63,170, the online website reported in January.

“I would not suggest anyone look down their nose at the associate’s degree,” says Jeff Strohl, director of research at the Georgetown center.

Compared to other industrialized nations, the U.S. ranks high in bachelor’s degrees but only fair to middling in sub-baccalaureate credentials. Ten percent of American workers have the vocational certificates and technical associate degrees needed for middle-skill jobs, compared with 24 percent of Canadians and 19 percent of Japanese.

Apprenticeships: Old idea is new again

Apprenticeships are making a come back – and not just in trade union jobs –but only a third of today’s apprentices are community college students. Apprenticeship has spread from construction trades to “skilled occupations such as computer operator, machinist, dental laboratory technician, tool and dye maker, electronic technician” and more, reports Community College Times.

In Switzerland, Austria and Germany, apprenticeships provide training for more than half of young people. There and elsewhere, apprenticeships have been grown to include information technology, finance, advanced manufacturing, and maritime occupations. Germany has the oldest and best-known apprenticeship system. It offers programs leading to recognized qualifications in about 350 different occupations.

In the U.S., “apprenticeship programs offer an array of advantages over pure postsecondary education programs,”  concludes a Center for American Progress report by economist Robert I. Lerman.

“Since apprenticeship openings depend on employer demand, mismatches between skills taught and supplied and skills demanded in the work place are unusual. Apprenticeships provide workers with a full salary so that participants can earn while they acquire valued skills. Apprentices learn in the context of real work settings and attain not only occupational skills but other work-related skills, including communication, problem solving, allocating resources, and dealing with supervisors and a diverse set of coworkers.”

Community colleges can provide the academic instruction apprentices need, while employers provide the occupational training and workplace skills, Lerman writes.

Some community colleges are “slow to develop new courses that are required as new programs or new technologies in existing programs arise,” reports Community College Times. But there are a growing number of successful apprenticeship programs.

In Washington State, more than 200 students are learning the ironworking trade through apprenticeships run by the Aerospace Joint Apprenticeship Committee, a state-funded partnership among community colleges, industry and the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers. The programs supply workers for Boeing Corp., the state’s largest employer.

South Carolina locates its major apprenticeship initiative, Apprenticeship Carolina, at its 16 technical colleges. The state-funded system is growing fast; since July 2007, the number of registered apprenticeship programs in South Carolina has grown from 90 to 230. All 16 of the state’s technical colleges are participating in apprenticeship programs.

The Wisconsin Youth Apprenticeship program was started in the 1990s and has matured into the nation’s largest apprenticeship opportunity for high school students. Under the two-year program, high school juniors and seniors complete up to 900 hours of work-based learning and related courses. Many also earn college credits, and 70 percent go on to higher education.

Apprenticeship could be used to prepare young people for the growing number of “middle-skill jobs” that require some postsecondary training but not a bachelor’s degree.

Carnevale: Job training creates good citizens

Community colleges’ mix of job training and academic education creates good citizens, says Anthony Carnevale of Georgetown’s Center on Education and the Workforce, in an interview with Community College Journal excerpted in Community College Times.

. . . ours is a society based on work. Those who are not equipped with the knowledge and skills necessary to get, and keep, good jobs are denied the genuine social inclusion that is the real test of full citizenship. Those denied the education required for good jobs tend to drop out of the mainstream culture, polity and economy. . . . If community college educators cannot fulfill their economic mission to help youths and adults become successful workers, they also will fail in their cultural and political missions to create good neighbors, good citizens and self-possessed individuals who can live fully in their time.

Almost a third of new job openings between 2010 and 2020 will require middle skills — more than a high school diploma but less than a bachelor’s degree — Carnevale predicts. Some of these jobs pay middle-class wages: 62 percent of middle-skill jobs pay $35,000 or more per year, his research has found. Thirty-one percent of entry-level associate-degree jobs and 27 percent of jobs requiring licensure or certification pay more than entry-level BA positions.

“Before the 1980s, employers provided entry-level training to the vast majority of middle-skill workers, largely in blue-collar occupations,” Carnevale says. Now community colleges help young people “get through the door to jobs that pay.”

There is a “missing middle” between high school and four-year college, says Carnevale.

Perhaps because employers did the entry-level training for so long in the United States, the American education system has been built around the four-year bachelor’s degree. For institutional and cultural reasons, the “college is a BA” mantra continues. Students march in lockstep into four-year institutions, many without any clue of how they will attach to the labor market at the end of their four to six years. This blind homage paid to the prestigious BA job is largely responsible for the difficulty in recruiting and training workers, along with the lack of information about how viable and upwardly mobile middle-skill jobs can be.

In spite of high unemployment, “2 million jobs persistently go unfilled for want of skilled workers,” says Carnevale.


CCs can bridge the skills gap

Community colleges are “ideally positioned to close the skills gap and train out-of-work Americans for “middle-skill jobs,” write Anthony Carnevale and Nicole Smith of Georgetown’s Center on Education and the Workforce (CEW) in GOOD. Sixty percent of jobs today require some postsecondary education or training, and the percentage will continue to rise, they predict.

With the help of community colleges, 1.5 million unemployed Americans could qualify for good jobs that require more than high school training but less than a bachelor’s degree, the researchers estimate. Roughly 21 percent of all jobs require “middle: skills: 29 million pay at least $35,000 a year and nearly 10 million pay more than $50,000. A “significant number actually pay more than entry-level jobs requiring a bachelor’s degree.”

However, community colleges are under pressure to raise graduation rates and ensure that graduates find jobs in their field.

With completion rates as the new criterion of success, community colleges run the risk of no longer being open access—a safe haven for students looking to complete remedial work, basic education or professional training that may or may not lead to a piece of paper certifying some kind of “completion” of a course of study.

Carnevale and Smith recommend four ways to help community colleges close the skills gap while balancing the goals of open access and high completion rates:

Community colleges should be allowed to have lower graduation rates than current metrics suggest—especially if they are tasked with having open access and non-traditional students.

. . . Funding levels should be attached to programs, not students, and should reflect the varying needs of those programs. For example, nursing programs that require access to very expensive technical equipment should be funded at a higher level than, say, courses in the liberal arts.

Strengthening the high school-to-college pipeline could reduce the number of students in community colleges who need remedial help, and ultimately lead to better completion rates for everyone.

Both community colleges and four-year institutions should provide more concrete data about the money value of college courses, programs and majors. The expected payoff, long-term costs and value of a college major should be information that all colleges make available to every potential and current student.

Community colleges will be of increasing importance in helping Americans prepare for the workforce and retrain to meet new workforce demands, Carnevale and Smith conclude.

Georgetown: ‘Middle’ skills lead to middle-class jobs

Career and technical education is “the missing middle ground in American education and workforce preparation,”  concludes a new Georgetown report, Five Ways That Pay Along the Way to the B.A. Some 29 million middle-class jobs — 21 percent of all jobs — are open to workers with employer-based training, industry-based certifications, apprenticeships, postsecondary certificates and associate’s degrees, according to the study, jointly released with Civic Enterprises. These jobs pay $35,000 to $75,000 annually;  nearly 40 percent pay more than $50,000 a year.

The U.S. ranks second in the world in the share of workers with bachelor’s degrees, but only 16th in sub-baccalaureate credentials, Georgetown advises.

“Compared to other advanced economies, the United States underinvests in sub-baccalaureate, career and technical education,” said Anthony P. Carnevale, the Center’s Director and the report’s lead author.

In the postindustrial economy, career tech jobs are shifting from blue collar to white: Only one third of CTE jobs are blue collar, half are white collar and 15 percent are in health care.  However, men still hold 18 out of the 29 million middle-class “middle” jobs.

For both men and women, the best jobs are in sub-baccalaureate STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) and health care, where over 80 percent of jobs pay middle-class wages.

While four-year graduates earn more, on average, than middle-skill workers, certificates and associate degrees can be a step on the path to a bachelor’s degree in time, the report notes.

Career and technical education has lost federal funding in recent years, points out the Chronicle of Higher Education. The Obama administration cut millions from programs created by the Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Technical Education Act. Georgetown urges the federal government to invest in career tech, setting up a “learning and earning exchange” to show students how to qualify for middle-class jobs. The report also urges integrating high school and postsecondary CTA with employer-based training.

“We need more pathways to postsecondary education,” Mr. Carnevale says. “Without that, we are creating a class-based society in America.”

. . . The exchange would provide students with information about specific training and education needed for jobs. In addition, educators could better tailor their programs to the job market, and employers would have a way to find new workers.

Employer training is the largest path to a middle-skill job, the report found. Postsecondary certificates — awarded to one million Americans a year — are now the second most common credential, after the bachelor’s degree. Some 800,000 earn associate degrees, but only half of those are in career fields such as nursing, business, and information technology. Registered apprenticeships reach 400,000 Americans; 90 percent are male.