Efforts Are Under Way to Tie College to Job Needs

Assaying the output of higher education in Texas, Michael Bettersworth evoked the image of a crippled Apollo 13 craft hurtling into space, its future uncertain.

“Houston, we have a problem, and it’s not that too few people are going to college,” said Mr. Bettersworth, an associate vice chancellor at the Texas State Technical College System. “It’s that too many people are getting degrees with limited value in the job market.”

Students throughout Texas are amassing college credits without knowing whether they will lead to employment, and many face serious debt when they graduate.

Meanwhile, the state’s population of skilled laborers is aging and approaching retirement, and there is a dearth of recent graduates with two-year vocational degrees who can take on those jobs.

Experts say a retooling is in order if the state hopes to expand its manufacturing industry.

As the economy begins to show signs of life, efforts are under way at two-year colleges across the state to make programs more responsive to the labor market. Some Texas leaders are trying to reverse the trend toward encouraging students to attain the highest degree possible. (Read more)

Via Reeve Hamilton, New York Times.

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Two-Fifths of High School Graduates Are Unprepared for College or the Workforce

Two-fifths of high school students graduate prepared neither for traditional college nor for career training, according to a study from researchers at Johns Hopkins University and the University of Arizona.

College-preparatory programming has expanded dramatically in the past decade, with participation in Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate more than tripling. Career-preparatory programs have evolved, as well, and school-to-work “pathways” have replaced tired old vocational programs.But they are not enough. One-third of high school students complete the modern college-preparatory track, and another one-quarter graduate from career-preparatory programs. The remaining high school population, an estimated 40 percent, do neither.

They are “a virtual underclass of students,” the researchers write, who finish high school with a transcript filled with watered-down general education courses and few prospects for success either in traditional college or in professional training.

The study is titled “The Underserved Third: How Our Educational Structures Populate an Educational Underclass,” and it was written by Regina Deil-Amen at the Center for the Study of Higher Education, University of Arizona, and Stefanie DeLuca, a sociologist at Hopkins. It actually published last year in the Journal of Education for Students Placed at Risk, but the findings were released to the general public Monday.

Many contemporary jobs require less than a bachelor’s degree; indeed, workers in high-demand fields can earn more money without a bachelor’s degree than counterparts in low-paying fields who have a degree.

But the structure of American high schools is trapped, the authors write, in a culture that “blindly advocate(s) bachelor’s degrees as the only valuable option and the cure for all social ills.”

“Tracking” is a dirty word in public education. Yet, high schools have tracked students since time immemorial, and tracking endures to this day. The approximately one-third of all high school students who participate in credible AP or IB study make up the gifted, college-preparatory track. Another group, about one-quarter of the student population, is steered instead into career preparatory study and occupies a lower track, although no career programs are ever advertized in quite that way. (Read more.)

Via Daniel de Vise, Washington Post.

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Why Companies Aren’t Getting the Employees They Need

Everybody’s heard the complaints about recruiting lately.

Even with unemployment hovering around 9%, companies are grousing that they can’t find skilled workers, and filling a job can take months of hunting.

Employers are quick to lay blame. Schools aren’t giving kids the right kind of training. The government isn’t letting in enough high-skill immigrants. The list goes on and on.

But I believe that the real culprits are the employers themselves.

With an abundance of workers to choose from, employers are demanding more of job candidates than ever before. They want prospective workers to be able to fill a role right away, without any training or ramp-up time.

In other words, to get a job, you have to have that job already. It’s a Catch-22 situation for workers—and it’s hurting companies and the economy. (Read more.)

[MISMATCHstats]

Via Peter Cappelli, Wall Street Journal.

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Generation Jobless: Young Men Suffer Worst as Economy Staggers

Few groups were hit harder by the recession than young men, like Cody Preston and Justin Randol, 25-year-old high-school buddies who didn’t go to college.

The unemployment rate for males between 25 and 34 years old with high-school diplomas is 14.4%—up from 6.1% before the downturn four years ago and far above today’s 9% national rate. The picture is even more bleak for slightly younger men: 22.4% for high-school graduates 20 to 24 years old. That’s up from 10.4% four years ago.

In contrast to those men, Messrs. Preston and Randol are old enough to have had some time in the job market. They worked together installing granite counters before the housing bust.

Mr. Preston married his girlfriend and settled into what he assumed would be a secure pattern of long hours on job sites and enough cash to travel and enjoy restaurants and bars. Mr. Randol at one point felt flush enough to buy a 63-inch television set and a 50-gallon fish tank for his apartment.

Then the recession hit. Neither man has found steady work since that pays as much as he earned before. Mr. Preston’s marriage broke up and he moved back in with his parents, an increasingly common pattern for jobless young men. Mr. Randol has made do with help from girlfriends and by living in houses packed with roommates to keep the rent low.

For such men, high unemployment is eroding their sense of economic independence. Their predicament reflects that of a generation of Americans facing one of the weakest job markets in modern history. (Read more.)

Via Conor Dougherty, Wall Street Journal

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Employers Complain, But Don’t Train

Employers complain they can’t find skilled workers, but they’re demanding too much and refusing to train new workers, Peter Cappelli, a management professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School and director of Wharton’s Center for Human Resources.

To get America’s job engine revving again, companies need to stop pinning so much of the blame on our nation’s education system. They need to drop the idea of finding perfect candidates and look for people who could do the job with a bit of training and practice.

Half of employers surveyed by Manpower say they have difficulty finding skilled workers. That’s because they want experienced workers with exactly the right skill set, Cappelli writes.

[MISMATCHstats]

Notice the shortage of skilled tradesmen, sales reps, drivers, admins and machinists on the Manpower survey. These are jobs that typically don’t require  bachelor’s degree.

Employers should work with colleges to ensure that job candidates developed needed skills, Cappelli writes.

Community colleges in many states, especially North Carolina, have proved to be good partners with employers by tailoring very applied course work to the specific needs of the employer.

Candidates qualify to be hired once they complete the courses—which they pay for themselves, at least in part. For instance, a manufacturer might require that prospective job candidates first pass a course on quality control or using certain machine tools.

Employers also can create apprenticeships, when possible, or longer probationary periods for novices to get up to speed, he suggests.

In Capelli’s follow-up — he got tons of mail — he concedes there’s a shortage of  information technology graduates with skills in mobile devices and data mining. That’s because students choosing majors four years ago didn’t anticipate the mobile boom.  “We cannot expect schools and students to guess what skills employers will need,” Cappelli writes. “Employers have to do more.”

Via Joanne Jacobs, Community College Spotlight

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