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Thirty-eight percent of employers report having trouble filling jobs, according to ManpowerGroup's latest annual Talent Shortage Survey.1 This is a 2 percent increase over 2014, demonstrating that the skills gap is a growing problem for employers. The jobs most impacted by this skills gap are skilled trade workers (including plumbers, electricians, auto mechanics and HVAC technicians), administrative professionals, drivers, sales representatives and accounting and finance staff.

Fortunately, career colleges and other career-related organizations stand in a perfect position to help employers solve this problem. By offering certification programs in fields with high demand and low numbers of qualified applicants, we can help our students, further our own mission and help employers close the skills gap.

Achieving Gainful Employment Compliance

For career colleges, the government's new gainful employment regulations offer a tangible incentive for focusing on certification programs in in-demand fields. Under the new guidelines, educational institutions' access to federal student aid is directly determined by their students' performance, measured by the ratio of student loan debt to income. The Department of Education estimates that approximately 1,400 career colleges,2 representing approximately 41 percent of all career college programs,3 do not meet the new regulatory standards.

Certification programs in the above-mentioned in-demand fields can help your career college meet this challenge in two ways: They often encumber students with less debt than associate's degree programs and they increase your students' employability and income potential. Both of these factors can improve student loan-to-income ratios, which in turn improves the gainful employment performance of your institution.

Increasing Job Placement Rates

For students, career college gainful employment compliance translates into some major benefits. One is better employment outlook. An estimated 47 percent of today's job postings seek to fill jobs involving "middle skills" that require more education than a high school diploma but less than a four-year degree, according to Accenture.4 Seventy-three percent of employers expect their middle skills needs to increase in the future, Accenture's research shows.5 Industries such as finance, IT, health care, retail and manufacturing will be among those hardest hit, with positions such as engineering technician, sales representative, nursing assistant, network administrator and computer support specialist becoming harder to fill. Students who possess these skill sets will fare better in tomorrow's job market.

Decreasing Student Debt

Graduates with well-paying middle-skills jobs can repay their student loan debt faster, another benefit students stand to gain from certification programs that lead to employment. Take a career as an electrician, for example: U.S. News & World Report reports that the mean salary for an electrician was $53,560 in 2013,6 but the overall cost to become an electrician is quite reasonable - anywhere between 1,000 and $5,000 - especially when compared to the $31,231 it costs on average to get a bachelor's degree at a private university, according to the College Board.7 By getting certified in fields where skills are in demand, students will earn more income to put toward repaying their loans.

Boosting Enrollment

Career colleges also benefit by offering skills certification programs; doing so can boost their enrollment. As more students make the connection between continuing their education and improving their financial future, they increasingly seek programs that will give them the certifications they need. Career colleges position themselves to attract more students when they offer these programs. Offering a high school completion program on your campus, in which students earn a high school diploma in a hybrid learning environment, is another opportunity to boost enrollment. After they earn their diploma, many of these students naturally matriculate to your college for training in these in-demand fields.

Supplying Employers with Skilled Workers

Finally, by equipping students with the skills companies need, career colleges can help employers close the skills gap. Certification programs in in-demand fields make it easier for employers to locate and recruit new employees with the skills they seek. Smart companies can leverage certification programs by partnering with career colleges to support recruiting, mentoring, and internship programs.

Employers can also send their existing employees to career colleges to learn specific skills, a less expensive option than hiring new personnel. In this way, certification programs can serve to promote career advancement and reduce employee turnover, cutting the cost of replacing personnel. For employers, students, and career colleges alike, certification programs represent a win-win solution.


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Resources: (1) Manpower 2015 Talent Shortage Survey (2) Fact Sheet: Obama Administration Increased Accountability for Low-Performing For-Profit Institutions (3) Postsecondary Institutions and Cost of Attendance 2014-15 (4) Managing the Talent Pipeline to Close the Middle Skills Employment Gap (5) Accenture Research Shows Nearly Three-Quarters of U.S. Companies Expect Their Demand for Middle-Skill Jobs to Increase  (6) U.S. News & World Report: Electrician Salary Information (7) COLLEGEdata: What's the Price Tag of a College Education?