The Next Big Things: Closing the Skills Gap

By AACC Staff

A look at successful community college programs that train students for jobs that have high need.

AACC’s Annual Convention is starting this weekend, and the top-of-mind question will be, what are the next big things our colleges can do to improve outcomes for our students? Students are concerned about jobs as they enroll in and complete college. How will a community college degree help get students jobs with family-supporting wages that set them on a path of economic security? Employers echo this question, asking: Where can I find the skilled workers I need to fill the growing jobs in my company and industry? Well, we have the answers for both questions.

We know that a growing gap exists between the skills Americans receive through their education and the training the modern-day labor market needs. In 2014, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were as many as 5 million job openings — many of which were in the growing fields of information technology and health care. Yet 5.5 percent of Americans are still unemployed. Many jobs remain unfilled because companies cannot find qualified candidates.

To resolve the skills gap and connect students to the jobs desired, and employers to the trained workers needed, our colleges have been hard at work exploring a multitude of strategies, whether it’s creating alternative education models or expanding public–private partnerships.

A number of community colleges nationwide have already seen success:

Cuyahoga Community College

Ohio’s Cuyahoga Community College (Tri-C) has teamed up with local companies, such as ArcelorMittal in Cleveland and Swagelok Company in Solon, to train students for positions that are difficult to fill because few applicants have the required skills. For example, Tri-C and its partners have developed Workforce training courses, including IT Futureworks, a fast-track program that helps build students’ skills in high-demand industries, such as information technology.

Macomb Community College

Michigan’s Macomb Community College (MCC) has developed a production-operator program, providing students with a basic orientation to manufacturing work and equipping them with the skills they need to obtain a job in this regional industry. Even after completing the program and securing entry-level positions, students are invited back to MCC to take for-credit classes focused on specific skill sets.

As students plan their journey into the workforce, higher-education leaders must do more to build skill sets and connect students to meaningful career pathways. It is our responsibility to align our education with industry needs to ensure we are giving our students the support to embark on careers with high demand — and giving our nation the skilled workforce to compete in today’s global economy.

At AACC, we have the game plan — The Next Big Things — and it’s all about credentials, completion and pathways to successful careers.

Join us from April 18–21 at The Next Big Things Annual Convention, in San Antonio, Texas, to talk about the skills gap and what our college leaders can do to improve student outcomes.

What steps are being taken at your college to close the skills gap in your area? Tell us in the Comments.

AACC Staff

contributed to this report.

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