Anthony Carnevale, executive director of Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce, shares his views on the importance of middle-skill jobs to the U.S. economy, and the role community colleges play in putting students to work.
Q: Why are middle-skill jobs so important to growing the U.S. economy?
A: Almost a third—17 million out of 55 million—new job openings between 2010 and 2020 are going to require middle skills, as baby boomers retire and new jobs are created.
Middle-skill jobs are also important because they often pay middle-class wages. For example, 62 percent of middle-skill jobs pay $35,000 or more per year and 14 percent pay $75,000 or more. What’s even more striking is that middle-skill jobs can pay more than jobs for workers with bachelor’s degrees. For instance, 31 percent of entry-level associate-degree jobs and 27 percent of jobs requiring some form of licensure or certification pay more than entry-level BA positions.
Q: What makes community colleges the ideal institutions to train middle-skill workers?
A: Community colleges are ideally situated to provide both practical career and technical preparation as well as general learning. The mix of general academic learning and workforce preparation that is the unique signature of the nation’s community colleges can lead to both further education and learning on the job. Moreover, the community colleges’ mix of general competencies and workforce development allows students to live more fully in their time by becoming more active citizens and successful workers.
The inescapable reality is that ours is a society based on work. Those who are not equipped with the knowledge and skills necessary to get, and keep, good jobs are denied the genuine social inclusion that is the real test of full citizenship. Those denied the education required for good jobs tend to drop out of the mainstream culture, polity and economy. It is crucial that community colleges retain their workforce mission. If community college educators cannot fulfill their economic mission to help youths and adults become successful workers, they also will fail in their cultural and political missions to create good neighbors, good citizens and self-possessed individuals who can live fully in their time.
Community colleges have for decades been doing what middle-skill workers need now: retraining the long-term unemployed, matching new graduates’ skill sets to job opportunities through internships and mentoring, serving regional geographic localities and training-up nontraditional students. These things form the backbone of the community college mandate.
The community colleges’ dual educational and workforce development missions provide institutes with a lot of room to grow, as well as an opportunity to flex their muscles as they already stand head and shoulders above the rest in the movement toward truly comprehensive postsecondary institutions. (Read more.)