Today we have commentary from Thomas Snyder who is president of Ivy Tech Community College in Indiana.
When faced with a challenge as daunting as our nation’s skills gap, it’s tempting to believe the solution lies in broad, sweeping initiatives requiring significant investments of time and resources—and it’s true that there are few easy answers. However, one key to closing the gap may require little more than a simple shift in our thinking.
I’ve come to believe that one of the issues holding our nation back when it comes to workforce development is our somewhat incomplete understanding of the options students have after high school. We perceive it as a two-track system, with the choices being either immediate entry into the workforce or enrollment at a four-year residential college. This omits, of course, several worthy options—including the community college.
There’s a good reason why our vision is limited in this way: at one time, the two-track system was a reality. Everyone was assured the promise of a remunerative, fulfilling career, with those entering the workforce immediately after high school able to do very well, even if their earning potential wasn’t quite equal to that of most college graduates.
Our workforce needs were also satisfied, since a high school diploma was an adequate prerequisite for many jobs. A two-track system was enough, in short, to get our economy where it needed to go.
Fast forward to 2012, and it becomes clear that the two-track system is nothing more than a memory—and a misleading one at that. The track from high school to the workforce has quite simply become a dead end as technology and other factors have led employers to require new skills. According to a recent report from the Georgetown Public Policy Institute, for example, those with no education beyond a high school diploma lost 5.6 million jobs from December 2007 through December 2009, the period generally believed to be the global recession. But even during the subsequent period of recovery, this same group lost an additional 230,000 jobs. <Read more.>