It’s the mismatch confronting and confounding policymakers and educators trying to accelerate the country’s slow climb out of economic recession.
Even as unemployment exceeds 9 percent, thousands of jobs are going unfilled.
A daunting workforce skills gap has left legions of Americans out of work, companies scrambling to find qualified workers and executives and political leaders fretting openly about a skills crisis.
Now, an initiative with the imprimatur of President Barack Obama has turned to community colleges to help close those gaps through a national network of partnerships with employers and businesses.
Obama traveled across the Potomac River to the Alexandria campus of Northern Virginia Community College to tout the expansion of Skills for America’s Future, an industry-led initiative that was announced during Obama’s White House Community College Summit last October.
The Skills initiative, spearheaded by the nonprofit Aspen Institute, aims to link industry with community colleges to train workers in emerging fields. Among the institute’s goals is to develop a national network of partnerships between employers, labor unions and community colleges to identify solutions to the skills gap and apply them across the country.
The first part of the initiative aims to prepare 500,000 community college students for careers in manufacturing, where an aging workforce and rapid technical advances are contributing to a large and growing skills gap.
“The irony is even though a lot of folks are looking for work, there are a lot of companies that are actually also looking for skilled workers,” Obama said. “There’s a mismatch that we can close.And this partnership is a great way to do it.”
The initiative will develop a curriculum, based on the National Association of Manufacturers’ advanced manufacturing skills certification system, which will be implemented at community colleges in 30 states. Credentials earned by students would not be an alternative to a two-year associate degree, but rather would equip students with the skills they need to get a good job and help employers fully understand what skills students possess.
A welding student, for example, would be able to leave a community college with a certificate that employers in shipbuilding or automobile manufacturing could recognize as a proof of the graduate’s skill set.