Skills Training Remains Essential

As Donald Trump is inaugurated as the United States President, there are many uncertainties about higher education policy and practice. Education leaders and experts are observing and weighing in on what will stay, what will go, what will be important and what will be dismissed as irrelevant.

One education trend that is likely to remain strong, both because of political priorities and economic demand, is skills training. Skills training involves students of all ages, from traditional age students to adult, nontraditional students who are already engaged in the marketplace. According to the National Skills Coalition the demand for skills training is immediate and strong. “More than half of all jobs (54 percent) in the US today are middle-skill jobs that require more than a high school diploma, but not a four-year degree. Many of these jobs pay family-sustaining wages and are in growing fields. Yet only 44 percent of workers are trained to the middle-skill level.”

This shortage of people trained with middle skills is one reason for the skills gap and worker shortage that is facing businesses today. As older workers retire there aren’t enough trained workers to replace them. As technology changes there aren’t enough workers trained with new skills to supply business demands. Skills training is one way to meet the employment demands and prepare workers to be successful in the job marketplace.

Skills education and worker training doesn’t necessarily mean all workers must complete a four-year degree. While the US is facing a predicted shortage of three million college graduates by 2018, there has recently been a large growth in short vocational credential programs. According to the Brookings Institute the number of vocational credentials awarded by Title-IV schools (those that can award federal financial aid) grew by 109 percent from 2000 -2012. These programs offer short term training that can close skills gaps in fields such as law enforcement, business STEM field including health care, and advanced manufacturing. Vocational programs require less than the two years of full-time coursework required for an associate’s degree.

Skills training for workers will benefit both employers and employees the greatest when businesses are actively involved. Businesses have the opportunity to be involved with schools in development of curriculum to fill their employment needs. For businesses that are not involved in curriculum development, engaging with employees in determining a career path yields positive results for both parties. Establishing a path for employees to follow with their training creates the opportunity to develop both short and long-term solutions to worker shortages.
Credentials that are stackable and can build to a degree lead to lifelong learning. Technology will keep changing and workers’ skills will always need to be updated. American workers know this.
• 54 percent of adults in the labor force say it will be essential for them to get training and develop new skills throughout their work life in order to keep up with changes in the workplace
• 35 percent of workers, including 27 percent of adults with at least a bachelor’s degree, say they don’t have the education and training they need to get ahead at work.
• 45 percent of employed adults say they got extra training to improve their job skills in the past 12 months.

Business that support employees in their education efforts will reap the long-term benefits of having a workforce that stays current in skills and will increase productivity as technology progresses.

Whether the Pell Grants are extended for short-term education pursuits and career training programs, with changes and adaptations to education policy remains to be seen. Employers, however, have the opportunity to support employees’ education pursuits with tuition assistance benefits. Offering tuition assistance acknowledges that education and skills training are lifelong pursuits and that they are beneficial to both businesses and individuals. Education and skills training for short-term solutions and long-term growth are essentials for businesses and individuals to be successful in a global economy.