In our country, 44% of workers are employed at low-wage jobs. A recent analysis of these workers found that skill development, career guidance, or informative feedback was lacking at their places of work. While low-wage workers flounder, employers continue to ring the alarm that middle-skill jobs are going unfilled.
While skills-based hiring has been elevated by large corporations, industries such as information technology still have a range of companies that require a bachelor’s degree for jobs that can be filled by a credential holder or skilled worker. College degrees have become a proxy for “soft skills” (or “essential skills”), which are highly desirable to employers. But these key competencies, such as collaboration, critical thinking, and proactivity, can be embedded into workforce and workplace training.
In a 2018 report, the Bureau of Labor Statistics stated that in 2016 there were 9.6 million self-employed workers. It projects that number will climb to 10.3 million by 2026. This is a slightly faster growth rate than the projected rate for all workers. This trend is important, because almost half of American entrepreneurs have less than a bachelor’s degree.
As these entrepreneurs come from a range of work and educational experiences – including workforce training programs – connecting entrepreneurial skills curriculum will expand the development of competitive and necessary skills. Connecting industry credentials and entrepreneurial skills will better position Americans for long-term success, whether as employees, the self-employed or employers. State and federal policymakers should:
- Prioritize entrepreneurial skill-building, real-world experiences, access to networks, and new business creation as key components of workforce training programs and K-12 accountability systems.
- Significantly expand the number of entrepreneur support organizations that are eligible to receive funding for workforce development.
- Empower the 3,000 CareerOneStop centers to be user-friendly outlets for information about entrepreneurship and to provide support for more Americans wishing to start their own businesses.
- Include entrepreneurship and applicable information and tools in workforce training programs to help tens of thousands of young Americans start their own businesses.
- Reauthorize the National Apprenticeship Act to expand apprenticeship programs in high-growth fields and occupations.
- Launch an innovation arm of the U.S. Department of Labor.
POLICY IN PRACTICE: Traditional “scholarship” programs – both public and private – need to shift from valuing only college completion to allow for focus on achieving success in the workplace. Financial investment in a variety of educational and occupational pathways after high school will catalyze careers and earnings for larger numbers of citizens.
One program, KC Scholars, is beginning to do that at scale. Launched five years ago with support from the Kauffman Foundation and many others, KC Scholars set out to engage students and adult learners in developing pathways to success. The program has awarded more than 700 scholarships each year to low-income and predominately first-generation scholars. More importantly, the coaching and support provided through the program has established persistence-to-completion rates over 30% higher than national averages. The higher education institutions in Kansas and Missouri supported the creation of the program and have made additional investments following its early success. KC Scholars is already yielding benefits to the metropolitan area’s workforce, with early third-party evaluations pointing to a more diverse and prepared workforce in the region.