At a time when job openings now outnumber the jobless, there is an increasing focus on the roadblocks preventing underemployed and unemployed individuals from gaining new skills. WorkingNation President Jane Oates tells EdTech Times that a talent shortage, stagnant wages, and student debt are holding workers back.
Oates spoke over the phone with EdTech Times CEO Hester Tinti-Kane ahead of her keynote speech at work+EDU. They discussed the changes happening in the job market and the education system’s response to the shortage of skilled labor.
“Employers are having a more difficult time finding the talent that they need. And yet, there are still all these people who are underemployed or unemployed,” Oates says in the podcast. “So the issue is, what’s not happening that used to happen?”
According to Oates, workers are stuck in low-paying and part-time jobs that do not match their skills or credentials. Or they do not have access to training programs to qualify for good jobs with middle-class wages. The responsibility for closing this skills gap has fallen to the education system, which is adapting to meet the demands of the new economy.
“Career and Technical Education over the past 20 years has gone through a real metamorphosis,” Oates says of the changing public perception about vocational training. She tells Tinti-Kane that high schools and technical schools have worked with employers to develop curricula that match the technological changes happening in the private sector.
“The idea that a business would really come in and address the curriculum and the delivery methods, side-by-side with teachers. I think that model is really promising,” Oates says.
Unlike in previous decades, CTE schools are now attracting “the best and the brightest” students who are seeking lower-cost alternatives to traditional universities. Adult learners are also taking advantage of the flexibility of online learning and short-term credentials offered at the community college level, allowing them to continue working and caring for their families.
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Why are learners opting for two-year schools? Fears about rising costs of higher education and the uncertainty of employment are becoming a factor when considering higher education, according to Oates. Students no longer have the time or the finances to delay their entry into the working world.
“In burdening yourself with all this debt and not being sure that you’re going to get a job that allows you to live your life and pay your loans back is something that’s going to start to inform families all across the country,” Oates says.
Now traditional four-year institutions are starting to feel the effects of this shift. Oates says that these schools can do more to help students reach graduation and increase the return on their investment.
“Colleges and universities are going to have to be much more open about accepting other colleges’ credit toward their major. Not as electives, but toward their major,” says Oates. “And everybody’s got to think much more efficiently about time to degree.”
Oates says that public workforce development is still a “critical player” in connecting workers to employment opportunities and held the “one-stop career centers” in the northeast in high regard.
“New England has such rich human capital resources in terms of these programs that I bet we’d be able to write a book just on the people that will come to the [work+EDU] conference that represent these programs,” says Oates.
You can listen to the entire podcast below and read the transcript of Oates’ remarks at EdTech Times.
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