The U.S. economy resembles an hourglass with a pinched middle, writes Marc Tucker. Singapore has a diamond economy, thanks to its educated workforce.
(Singapore) built a very high floor under the entire workforce by providing a world-class academic curriculum to all their students and creating a world-class teaching force to teach that curriculum. They built a system of polytechnics as good as any in the world to provide very highly skilled senior technical workers for a wide range of industries. Perhaps most impressive, they created a set of post-secondary vocational schools for the bottom quarter of their students as fine as any I have seen anywhere in the world, with facilities that rival those of many American universities. They turned vocational education and training from a dumping ground into a sought-after alternative that attracts more and more students every year.
Ninety percent of Singapore’s vocational graduates have job offers in their chosen fields within six months of graduation, Tucker writes. Youth unemployment is very low.
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.”
California’s community colleges will train tomorrow’s workforce — but only if they get state help. So argue Angela Glover Blackwell, CEO of PolicyLink, Jose Millan, vice chancellor of economic and work force development for California Community Colleges, and Van Ton-Quinlivan, director of workforce development for Pacific Gas and Electric Co, in the Sacramento Bee. Many infrastructure-building jobs are “middle-skill” positions that pay well but require less than a bachelor’s degree but more than a high school diploma, they write.
Many “boutique” community college training programs are already helping build this work force. Take PG&E’s 2-year-old PowerPathway effort, which works with community colleges to develop industry-advised curriculum for career pathways. More than half of the program’s graduates have been women and people of color – but it will have difficulty scaling up and serving all the students it could without more support from the state.
Other infrastructure leaders are also recognizing community colleges as the most effective path to finding and training skilled workers. East Bay Municipal Utility District and Southern California Edison – both members of the California Energy & Utility Workforce Consortium – have collaborated with local community colleges to evolve curriculum to better train workers in the energy and water industries.
California must: recruit faculty from the infrastructure sector; scale up proven technical programs; strengthen the basic skills, financial aid and other academic supports vulnerable students need to succeed; create national industry-recognized credentials that are portable state-to-state and institution-to-institution, and improve completion rates for community college students in career technical education programs.
This will be tough to do given the state’s budget crunch.