Focusing on skills, rather than just degrees, for federal jobs

Ivanka Trump outlines the work of the American Workforce Policy Advisory Board prior to President Trump signing an executive order. (Screenshots via live stream of meeting)

President Trump on Friday signed an executive order requiring federal agencies to focus their hiring based on job seekers’ skills, rather than on whether they earned a college degree.

The order, which was signed during a meeting of the American Workforce Policy Advisory Board (AWPAB), requires agencies to revise outdated federal job qualification standards and candidate assessments, which the White House says will improve the quality and competency of the civil service.

Unnecessary degree requirements exclude otherwise qualified applicants from federal employment and disproportionately harm low-income Americans, according to a White House press release. The federal government is the nation’s largest employer with 2.1 million civilian workers.

“As a result of this reform, talented individuals with apprenticeships, technical training and apt backgrounds will have greater opportunity to pursue careers in the Federal civil service,” the release said.

Community college advocates have previously noted that some federal jobs, especially technical ones, only need workers with skills earned through certificates and associate degrees, yet federal job listings nearly always set a baccalaureate as the entry-level degree.

The president’s order will give skills preference over a two- or four-year degree unless one is absolutely necessary for the job, said Russ Vought of the U.S. Office of Management and Budget.

“We believe that this will actually lead to a better workforce that is more geared toward being able to accomplish the skill sets that are required and will be able to do it quicker,” he said.

“It’s a critical step for expanding opportunity for so many Americans,” said AWPAB member Ginni Rometty, executive chair of IBM, who noted that last year 15 percent of her company’s new hires were based on “skills first.”

She also commended U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos for last week’s announcement that the department is starting a new CARES Act-funded grant program focused on short-term job training for in-demand occupations and entrepreneurship development. She said it was “right in the bull’s eye” of what’s currently needed to help workforce and economic development.

Lockheed Martin Executive Chair Marillyn Hewson, who serves on the advisory board, also outlined her company’s changes in recruiting and hiring, especially around veterans and military spouses, and in building a STEM pipeline by showcasing STEM careers to students. Lockheed Martin also launched in January a five-year, $5 million vocational scholarship program, the first of its kind in the aerospace and defense industry, she said. As of June 16, it awarded 150 scholarships of $6,600 to cover training costs.

Promising practices

Jay Box, president of the Kentucky Community and Technical College System (KCTCS), noted that workforce development efforts in his state match training to needed skill sets. The types of jobs available have changed because of the pandemic, but local chambers of commerce are sending to KCTCS information on available jobs. The systems’ colleges match the skills that are needed to fill those jobs and provide links to programs at the colleges that offer such training.

“That’s an important part of what we do in education, (which) is partner and align our skill sets that we teach with the demand of business and industry,” he said.

Jay Box of the Kentucky Community and Technical College System outlines workforce development efforts in his state.

A working group’s document on leading practices in recruitment, hiring and training features a few examples from the community college sector, including the American Association of Community CollegesRight Signals Initiative, which focused on demonstrating a new credentialing model that clarifies to employers, students and colleges what skills and knowledge are attain through the credentials.

The document also highlights the efforts of WSU Tech in Wichita, Kansas, which works with businesses to develop a talent pipeline through recruitment, applied learning initiatives, online job boards, virtual industry chats/tours and industry advocate teams. The Kentucky FAME (Federation for Advanced Manufacturing Education) program also is featured. Through the program, more than a dozen community colleges in Kentucky help to prepare students for jobs in advanced manufacturing.

Update on IRAPs

U.S. Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia spoke before the advisory board about employment rates during the pandemic, which have shown some signs of recovery, but he noted that more workers will need retraining for available jobs. He also cited new industry recognized apprenticeship programs (IRAPs) as a new tool that he thinks will be effective in developing apprenticeships in growing industries such as healthcare, advanced manufacturing and cyber security.

Scalia briefed board members on the status of IRAPs, noting that the U.S. Department of Labor is accepting applications for entities that serve like accrediting bodies — which can include community colleges, trade associations, leading businesses and others — that would approve these apprenticeships.

A new name for ILRs

The board also received an update on the so-called “interoperable learning record,” or ILR, which would serve like a digital college transcript and resume that would be updated and available instantly.

Scott Pulsipher, president of Western Governors University who serves on the advisory group that is the lead on the ILR, noted that the name and its initials are a mouthful and hard to understand.

“Go ahead and try to say that three times fast,” he joked.

The group decided to rename the unit as a “learning and employment record,” or LER.

“I think it’s a much more descriptive and more accurate term, ” Pulsipher said. “We believe that this name is intuitive and is also pronounceable, digestible, understandable and it can become part of the America lexicon of education, work and job searching and hiring.”

A few pilot programs currently testing the LER were featured at the meeting, including one partnership focusing on cyber security that includes IBM, Central New Mexico Community College and the National Student Clearinghouse.

“These pilots will be ultimately rolled up and something that we hope to replicate on a much broader and larger scale,” said Ivanka Trump, the president’s senior advisor and co-chair of AWPAB.

The president also plans to continue the work of the AWPAB for another year so the council can take the pilots it has started and scale them, especially the LER, Ivanka Trump said.

Info campaign

The advisory board will roll out a new public relations campaign on various career pathways in mid-July. It was initially scheduled to launch in March but was postponed because of the pandemic.

As part of the campaign, the Ad Council will feature various career pathways, as well as interviews with individuals who have upgraded their skills and moved on to better jobs, said IBM’s Rometty, who co-chairs the group working on the campaign.

An accompanying website will include more than 180 resources, such as links to in-demand jobs, even new ones such as contact tracers, as well various career credentials.

“It’s not enough to just do a campaign,” Rometty said. “There has to be a call to action about what to do.”

A few of the Ad Council promotions designed for various career options that often don’t require a four-year degree. The examples were shared at the advisory board’s meeting on Friday.

About the Author

Matthew Dembicki
is editor of Community College Daily and serves as publications director for the American Association of Community Colleges.