A newly published study by Alicia Sasser Modestino from the New England Policy Center of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston points to a growing mismatch with the supply and demand for an important component of our skilled labor pool, “middle-skilled” jobs. A gap of 780,000 workers could exist by 2018. She observes that:
- Since 1990, the region’s population of working-age adults with any postsecondary education has been growing slower than that in the rest of the US due to slower population growth and greater net domestic out-migration. Over time, New England’s labor force will likely shrink, while that of the nation is likely to grow.
- While the region has led the nation in terms of increasing the “high-skill” share of its population, it has consistently under-performed in terms of increasing the share of “middle-skill” workers (individuals with some college or an associate’s degree). The supply of skilled workers will not grow fast enough to keep pace with demand once the economy recovers.
According to the report, we need to ”grow our own talent” by increasing postsecondary educational attainment – especially utilizing the Community College system – through career-oriented programs that focus on preparing students for high demand middle-skill jobs.
However, with limited state resources, putting more funding into community colleges must be tied with the responsibility to make sure that those resources are spent efficiently and effectively.
Suggested actions include:
- Programs in other states have shown that financial aid along with offering stipends, child care, and transportation during periods of study can boost completion rates.
- Greater communication between firms that hire “middle-skill” workers and the institutions that educate them could better align training curriculum with employer needs.
- Better collaboration among community colleges could provide a cost effective, strategic direction needed to achieve these goals.
- A single, unified system of community colleges could be an important part of an overall workforce development strategy, including other postsecondary education and training options such as employer and vocational training, certificate and apprenticeship programs, career centers, and ESL programs.
Strengthening community colleges can be a win-win-win for students, employers, and the region.