The workforce needs massive upskilling

Annette Parker, president of South Central College (Minnesota), talks with attendees at a Workforce Development Institute session on the future of work. (Photos: Ellie Ashford)

AMELIA ISLAND, Fla. — Never mind robots fully replacing humans in the workforce. At least not yet. The real story is the challenging demographics of the workforce, according to Bill Bonvillian, senior director of the MIT Office of Open Learning.

There will be shortages of workers in some areas, along with new opportunities that require “massive upskilling,” Bonvillian said this week at the American Association of Community Colleges’ Workforce Development Institute. He cited some of the findings from the MIT Work of the Future Report:

  • The United States lost one-third of all manufacturing jobs between 2000 and 2010, and only 18 percent of them came back by 2018.
  • Most of the jobs that were lost dealt with routine assembly work; skilled jobs were retained.
  • Between 1990 and 2013, the median income of men without a high school diploma fell 20 percent. In the same period, the median income of men with a diploma or some college fell 13 percent.
  • Of the 11.6 million jobs created between 2000 and 2018, 11.5 million went to people with some college education.

The result of these trends is a shrinking middle class and growing inequality, Bonvillian said.

A college credential often doesn’t match well with the workforce skills needed for a job, he said, “but it is now the default credential.”

Other countries, such as Germany and Austria, do a good job of helping students make the transition from school to work, Bonvillian said. But in the U.S., workforce education is not a “system.”

“Workers don’t know what skills they need, educators don’t know what skills to educate for, and employers don’t know the skills workers have,” he said.

He encouraged colleges to incorporate new technologies into their instruction, such as virtual reality, augmented reality, computer gaming, simulation models, blockchain certification systems and the use of digital tutors with AI capabilities.

Strong partnerships

Annette Parker, president of South Central College (SCC) in Minnesota, called upon community colleges to “think strategically about what fundamental skills all students need so they can adapt to changing technology.”

“That is about resilience,” she added.

SCC is leading the state in developing industry-recognized apprenticeships, implemented a system to award credits for prior learning, offers online training throughout the state, and awards credits for courses in the college’s corporate education department.

She encouraged college leaders to develop strong relationships with employers, noting that her cabinet is embedded in the community. “We are at the table,” she said, and the legislative platform for the college is built into the platform of the community’s chamber of commerce.

Employers need to understand “we’re there to support the economic vitality of the community,” Parker said. “Ninety-six percent of our students stay in our community – that’s a big selling point for employers.”

Obsolete job descriptions

The labor market data community colleges rely on can be misleading, said Monique Baptiste, vice president program officer for global philanthropy at JPMorgan Chase & Co. In northern New Jersey, for example, the data indicate there’s a big need for bank tellers.

“That’s a false projection,” she said. “We’re not hiring tellers anymore. We’re hiring relationship managers.”

JPMorgan Chase doesn’t need people to count money; it needs people with customer service skills in its branches who can work with clients, Baptiste said.

HR personnel at JPMorgan Chase are changing job descriptions to no longer require four-year degrees for many jobs. The only reason for that requirement in many cases is to make it easier to weed out applicants, she said. But work-based expertise is often more important than a degree for many jobs.

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Baptiste urged community colleges to take advantage of subject matter experts at companies who can provide data on what skills employees need. Employers can also rely on community colleges to train their staff. She called upon college leaders “to think strategically about how you can help firms train incumbent workers.”

“Employers are great validators for community colleges. If we are in strong partnerships, we would love to sing your praises more,” Baptiste said. “We are fully committed to supporting community colleges.”

Community colleges also should market themselves and their programs better, according to Snap-On Inc. President and CEO Nick Pinchuck. Technical jobs often are viewed as “the consolation prize,” he said. Instead, colleges should make sure the public knows there are many high-paying jobs available that don’t require more than a two-year degree or certificate.

Nick Pinchuck, President of Snap-On Inc.

About the Author

Ellie Ashford
is associate editor of Community College Daily.
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