Union and business leaders detailed at a House hearing Thursday their struggles to find skilled workers for trade careers, noting that partnering with K-12 schools could help to at least make students and families aware of these occupations as well as available apprenticeships.
But it was the workforce programs developed by a Minnesota community college that allow adults to earn-as-they-learn and provide high school students with an opportunity to earn college credits as they explore career and technical education (CTE) that caught the attention of several members of the House Commerce Committee’s workforce subcommittee.
The hearing was held to examine workforce development needs in the infrastructure industry, with discussion touching on federal regulations and taxes. But a significant part of the 90-minute meeting focused on how to fill a skilled worker shortage. Even with paid registered apprenticeships, some unions and businesses are having a hard time finding interested participants, according to witnesses before the subcommittee.
Developing public-private partnerships
Annette Parker, president of South Central College in Minnesota, outlined how her college has partnered with local school districts and businesses to provide career pathways for students from high school through college. After she served on President Barack Obama’s Advanced Manufacturing Partnership 2.0 Steering Committee, SCC adopted the committee’s recommendation in creating the Minnesota Advanced Manufacturing Partnership (MNAMP) in 2014, which comprises 12 community colleges and two Centers of Excellence.
“Together with these partners, we created a work-based learning program focused on providing career pathways in advanced manufacturing, with students earning stackable, portable, industry-recognized certifications while attending college and simultaneously working in their specific industry,” Parker said.
SCC also has created another program to serve high school students called the High School to College Career, or H2C. Through the program, which begins this fall, students at one local high school can take classes at their school that will prepare them for opportunities in six health career areas, while attaining short-term stackable certifications and getting workplace experience at area healthcare facilities. Students can complete up to 36 college credits with SCC while in high school.
SCC added courses to H2C because of its popularity, Parker said. The college plans to expand the program to other industries and school districts in the future, she said.
“Models like this, that have public-private partnerships, are essential for the federal government to support as we ramp up high school programs that create awareness and interest in the highly skilled fields we will need for infrastructure development and building the workforce of the future,” Parker said.
SCC was able to enhance MNAMP using a $15 million Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training (TAACCCT) grant from the U.S. Department of Labor. Although TAACCCT ended a few years ago, many community college advocates say it is time for Congress to revisit the model that used a consortium approach to focus on regional workforce needs in growing industries.
Community colleges also will need federal investment to help prepare workers for jobs created through the president’s infrastructure-focused American Jobs Plan, Parker said. The proposal would provide $12 billion toward upgrading two-year colleges’ facilities and technology.
However, more funds may be needed to help two-year colleges get up to speed. The American Association of Community Colleges estimates $60 billion is needed to help community colleges with needed renovations and upgrades. Minnesota State institutions alone have $1.1 billion in deferred maintenance is at $1.1 billion, Parker said.
Calling for short-term Pell
Community college advocates ask members of Congress to consider expanding Pell Grant eligibility to short-term programs whenever they have an opportunity. Parker did so at the hearing, noting it would allow workers to first earn a short-term credential to land a job, and hopefully they will continue to earn additional credentials to move up the career ladder.
The owner of a mid-sized manufacturing company testifying at the hearing also asked lawmakers to consider providing more student aid for CTE programs, many of which are short-term. Allowing students to access and complete high-quality, short-term credentialing programs with federal financial aid can often be a first step in someone’s education journey, said Michael Tamasi, president and CEO of AccuRounds, a precision-machining company in Avon, Massachusetts.
“If Congress expanded financial aid to anyone seeking skills training, students in high-quality training programs — not just those seeking traditional college degrees — then small businesses could offer career progression for even more workers than we do today,” he said.