Recommendation 3 – Skills Gap

Close the American skills gap

Close the American skills gap by sharply focusing career and technical education on preparing students with the knowledge and skills required for existing and future jobs in regional and global economies.

To close the skills gap, community colleges will need to build capacity for identifying unfilled labor market needs and ensure that career education and training programs are targeted to address those high-need areas. They will also need to ensure students’ opportunities for career advancement through the design of coherent career pathways leading to attainment of stackable credentials in those high-need areas. And they will need to build local, regional, and national partnerships (involving community colleges, employers, and government agencies) to accomplish a collaborative agenda that includes targeting skills gaps, promoting the associate degree as a desired employment credential, and establishing alternative models for completing skills-based credentials.

How Can Colleges Do This Work?

Advice to colleges focuses on four actions:

  • Better understand labor market trends and employers’ needs—and communicate them to students. Colleges should use current labor market information, such as projected jobs, employment trends, and wage data, to inform student advising. Student advising can, for example, include assessing students’ interests and aptitudes, discussing relevant jobs, and exploring different educational pathways and the jobs/salaries that would result from each. At the same time, colleges can strengthen employer engagement to learn about demand for skills in key local industries. With this information, colleges can project labor force needs as well as changes in the skill levels or composition of future jobs. Finally, colleges can engage industry subject matter experts to help develop in-depth competency-based curricula and credentials.
  • Develop career pathways for current and future jobs. State policy, workforce development agencies, and community colleges should incorporate three intersecting elements: career pathway programs, sector strategies, and industry clusters. Community colleges can create pathways encompassing stackable, short-term programs that build toward more advanced credentials. They also can reduce learning time through assessments of prior learning, accelerated competency-based modules, and self-paced adaptive learning options. Then, colleges can provide pathways that incorporate a range of learning experiences—non-credit and industry-recognized programs, certifications, and credit programs and credentials—and lead students to employment and/or university transfer.
  • Redesign student experiences to incorporate more work-based, hands-on, and technology-enriched learning. Effective educational practice will require more work-based learning, including internships, apprenticeships, and clinical placements. These programs are highly valued by employers and typically translate into workplace success. Colleges can increase use of simulators and trainers to improve hands-on competencies and bridge learning into the workplace. They also can incorporate open educational resources, including MOOCs and other technologies that facilitate access to learning and allow students to learn in both traditional classrooms and other settings.
  • Engage actively with partners to match education and training with jobs. Closing skills gaps requires that community colleges deepen partnerships with business and industry to strengthen coordination, leverage resources, foster entrepreneurism, and support small business development. Close collaboration with Workforce Investment Boards and employers will help to build a pipeline for new workers in key sectors.