Economist Prakash Loungani of the International Monetary Fund has estimated that 25 percent of the unemployed are out of work today due to skill-job mismatches. Georgetown’s Harry Holzer has calculated that today’s unemployment rate of 9.1 percent would be nearer to 8 percent if a majority of these jobs were filled. When it’s difficult and costly for employers to find skilled workers, either employers don’t hire or they concentrate their growth overseas.
The training and skills discussion is less about professionals with four-year degrees, who remain employed at a pretty hefty rate, and more about those who need top-shelf career and technical education. It’s easy to forget that 68% of the labor force has less than a four-year degree, including 47% of those in professional occupations and 32% of those in management roles.
Fact is, America’s community colleges, job training, and workforce development are a mess. Community colleges suck up nearly $36 billion* in taxpayer subsidies to provide training of uncertain quality, retain a balky and inconvenient academic calendar, and frequently do a lousy job of linking their instruction to local workforce needs. Moreover, they’ve been slow to meet new needs, instead insisting that they first require new state subsidies.
Consequently, most growth in career and technical education in the past decade has been driven by for-profit providers, including operators that rake in federally-subsidized loans while delivering training of dubious quality. The result has been the Obama administration’s heavy-handed effort to regulate for-profit education through “gainful employment” regulations that measure loans taken and earnings of graduates.