Postsecondary education and training are vital to mobility

A conversation with Tamar Jacoby, president, Opportunity America

While the number of jobs being added to the workforce is still small compared to the number of people still out of work, there is some movement. Notably, manufacturing has made some gains with more than 66,000 new hires in September, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Most of these jobs require a certain level of tech skills, a trend that is only accelerating.

“The economy is really changing. People used to talk about the future of work. It’s not the future of work—it’s been going on for two, three, even four decades in some industries,” says Tamar Jacoby, president of Opportunity America, a think thank that looks at ways to ensure economic mobility for poor and working Americans.

To Jacoby and many others looking at how we prepare workers for the skills they need in the current workforce, it’s becoming all the more clear that some sort of postsecondary education and training is necessary. Manufacturing is a case in point.

Automation and AI continue to change the skills needed in the factory, a change that has been underway since the 1970s. “You used to be able to get a job at the Ford factory with only a high school education, or less than a high school education. The person who used to get by on high school now really needs some kind of postsecondary education or training, or at least better preparation in high school for the world of work,” Jacoby tells me in this episode of the Work in Progress podcast.

Opportunity America and Brookings just released a report on a 10-year-old employer-driven manufacturing program they believe could be a model used to help give jobseekers get those evolving skills. Employers work with community colleges to set a curriculum that will teach skills needed in their local factories through a combination of classroom and on-the-job learning. And, the students are paid for the work they do on the line.

The report says there is clear evidence that this kind of learn-and-earn program will lead to economic mobility. “What we found was that after five years, if you compare FAME graduates with other vocational education, CTE graduates from the same community colleges, the FAME people earn 80%, more $45,000 more a year. I mean, that’s a pretty amazing pay premium,” says Jacoby. While the program started at one Toyota car plant in Kentucky, it is now embraced by more than 400 companies in 13 states.

This is just one example of how employers can lead the changes needed in creating a skilled workforce and create opportunities for good jobs. Find more examples in this Work in Progress podcast. Listen here, or find us wherever you find your podcasts.

Episode 153: Tamar Jacoby, President, Opportunity America
Host: Ramona Schindelheim, Editor-in-Chief, WorkingNation
Producer: Larry Buhl
Executive Producers: Joan Lynch, Melissa Panzer, and Ramona Schindelheim
Music: Composed by Lee Rosevere and licensed under CC by 4.0.

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