While the number of available jobs in the United States is growing, employers are struggling to fill vacancies due to a lack of workers with the right skills. Overemphasis on the bachelor's degree as the gold standard postsecondary credential has led to an insufficient number of prospective employees with the appropriate skills. To close the skills gap, academic institutions offering short-term career diploma, certificate and degree programs need to take a new approach.

The Growing Importance of Short-term Career Training Programs

11.5 of the 11.6 million jobs created since 2008 have gone to workers with some level of postsecondary education " this includes those who've taken postsecondary courses or completed a postsecondary diploma, certificate or degree program1. In today's labor market, finding a good-paying job requires a high school diploma and some postsecondary training, but not necessarily a four-year bachelor's degree.

President of Columbus State Community College, David Harrison, spoke on this topic at a hearing of Congress' Joint Economic Committee earlier this year. Harrison asserted that jobs requiring an associate degree are growing three times faster than those requiring a bachelor's degree. Yet many young people continue to enroll in bachelor's programs that may not help them find a good job when they graduate.

For employers, this means a shortage of workers with the skills required to do the job. To address this mismatch, companies and local colleges must work together to attract students to career-specific postsecondary programs that are in-demand in their region.

Teaching the Right Skills at Career and Community Colleges

There are some 6 million available job vacancies in the U.S., according to the Joint Economic Committee2. Colleges can help fill some of these jobs by expanding their offerings of short-term career programs to equip students with the skills needed for today's job market. According to Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), the ranking minority member of the committee, "community colleges have a critical role to play because they understand the needs of local employers."

Career and community colleges have a unique ability to plug in with local employers and understand the local job market; and they are positioned to engage employers, understand what skills and programs are in-demand, and identify what courses they need to build to deliver the training programs young people need.

Benefits of Online and Blended Learning Solutions

Understanding what programs to develop is the key first step. The next is finding the resources and developing the content to roll out new programs, ideally in a condensed timeframe to better meet local market demand. While community colleges clearly have a central role in closing the skills gap and helping employers find the skilled workers they need, they don't need to do it alone. Online education providers can provide course content, academic support and comprehensive implementation services that allow colleges to easily and inexpensively expand their existing course catalog. Providers should be able to integrate their content with a college's Learning Management System, to provide students with a seamless learning experience.

Resources: Photo Source. (1) America's Divided Recovery: College Haves & Have Nots (2) The 2017 Joint Economic Report (115th Congress)