Creating a Clear Path to Better Jobs for Low-Skilled Workers Stuck in Front-line Positions

America is creating millions of jobs. But, too many of these jobs go unfilled – five million to be exact. At the same time, there are roughly 8.7 million Americans looking for work and 24 million front-line workers who could fill these jobs, if they had the skills or were given the opportunity.

As the economy continues to improve, more and more employers struggle to find skilled workers with the requisite skills to fill in-demand jobs. At the same time, between twenty and thirty million workers in low-wage jobs – many of whom could be trained to fill more skilled roles – lack a clear path to a better job and career. According to the OECD, these workers are about half as likely as their high-skilled colleagues to participate in any job-relevant education or training over the course of the year. These workers need expanded opportunities and lowered barriers to gain both basic and technical skills.

In his State of the Union address last Tuesday, the President called on employers across the country to adopt or expand additional measures to help front-line workers gain the training and credentials to advance into better paying jobs – including paying for college education, offering on-the-job training for career progression, and increasing access to technology-enabled learning tools. The day after, the President’s first stop and appearance was at Boise State University in Idaho where he launched an “Upskill America” initiative:

Today, we’re partnering with business across the country to “Upskill America” — to help workers of all ages earn a shot at better, higher-paying jobs, even if they don’t have a higher education.  We want to recruit more companies to help provide apprenticeships and other pathways so that people can upgrade their skills.  We’re all going to have to do that in this new economy.  But it’s hard to do it on your own, especially if you’re already working and supporting a family. 

Many employers have already developed promising approaches to training and credentialing for upskilling front-line workers as part of successful talent strategies. And, we know that many others see the opportunity to benefit their workforce and bottom lines through investments in the skills of their front-line workers. This challenge creates a great opportunity for business, industry, labor, and government to team up and find and support a solution together.

The Administration is working with employers to identify and spread best practices for education, training and credentialing of front-line workers to help with their job progression. Examples of these practices are employers paying for their front-line workers’ college education, identifying clear internal pathways, providing career counseling and coaching, offering on-the-job training that leads to career progression, and providing access to online and technology-enabled education tools so workers can develop their basic and technical skills.

In the coming months, businesses of all sizes will be convened, as well as foundations, education and training non-profits and other partners who are committing to make new investments, to collectively set new goals and change policies that will enable low-skilled front-line workers to progress into better-paying jobs and help employers meet their current and projected unmet demand for skilled labor.

This effort to improve the skills of front-line workers builds on the actions Vice President Biden presented to President Obama on July 22, 2014 as part of his report Ready to Work: Job-Driven Training and American Opportunity. In his 2014 State of the Union address, the President had tasked Vice President Biden with leading a review of federal employment and training programs, with the aim of making them more job-driven. Ready to Work: Job-Driven Training and American Opportunity highlights successful job-driven training strategies, details executive actions that are being taken by the federal government, and new commitments by employers, non-profits, unions and innovators to help spread what’s working. As indicated in the release of the Ready to Work report, if you’re ready to work, you should be able to find a job that fits your skills, or get trained with the skills you need for a better job.

In November 2014, U.S. Secretary of Labor Perez launched The Skills Working Group, an interagency effort to maintain focus and attention around interagency, collaborative efforts of the Job-Driven Training Initiative, as well as emerging opportunities around cross-agency skills coordination. Thirteen federal agencies, the White House National Economic Council, and the Office of Management and Budget make up The Skills Working Group including the departments of Labor, Education, Commerce, Health and Human Services, Agriculture, Housing and Urban Development, Veterans Affairs, Transportation, Energy, Defense, Justice, Interior, and the Social Security Administration. The Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education has been an active contributor to this work and leads the career pathways and upskilling work streams.

I find it inspiring to see businesses and labor-management initiatives expand access to training and provide supports for Americans to access pathways into the middle class. CVS Health, for example, is expanding access to job-advancement training for their employees by launching two new regional learning centers that will serve thousands of additional employees in the next two years. This builds on the six regional learning centers CVS Health currently operates in partnership with community colleges and other community service organizations, to help support thousands of workers as they build customer service- and healthcare-related job skills for career progression. The Upstate NY 1199 SEIU Training and Upgrading Fund started C.N.A. training in the Syracuse (Central NY) area three years ago for incumbent SEIU members to allow lower level workers (dietary and housekeeping) to move up the career ladder.  Since this initiative was not always able to fill this program with incumbent workers, they started drawing on people from the community.  Community participants are funded through grants.

It is also exciting to see how many opportunities the new Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) provides for businesses – in partnership with adult education and youth and adult training providers or otherwise – to ensure that our nation’s workforce is ready to work and remains highly skilled and competitive. Whether it is through the Adult Education and Family Literacy Act – Title II of WIOA – or through any of the other core programs, WIOA can play a critical role in achieving the goals of UpSkill America. Here are just a few ways that WIOA can do this:

  • Employer partnerships with education providers are eligible entities under Title II. This creates opportunities for employers and providers to team up and offer foundation skill development opportunities for low-skilled workers looking to get ahead. Learn more at a new, interactive site designed to support employer-adult education partnerships.
  • Employers can take advantage of increased access to work-based training. WIOA provides the ability for local workforce investment areas to help employers train their workers.
  • WIOA also increases reimbursement available for on-the-job training from 30 percent to 75 percent.
  • Businesses, under WIOA, can collaborate with American Job Centers, community colleges, and adult education providers to develop integrated education and training programs—including Registered Apprenticeships—at the workplace to help employees gain basic and technical skills and advance to the next level of work. Further, this collaboration can support regional sector strategies and the development of career pathways that support job seekers and help meet the needs of employers.
  • WIOA places a great emphasis on serving out-of-school youth. The new law requires local communities to spend at least 75 percent of available youth funding, or approximately $500 million, on this population. This provision goes into effect July 1, 2015. By partnering with the public sector to provide apprenticeships, internships, summer jobs, and other on-the-job training experiences, businesses can help the nation maximize opportunities for disconnected youth and young adults and build a skilled workforce.

The UpSkill America initiative, the implementation of WIOA, the modernization and expansion of apprenticeships, and the implementation of the executive actions in the Ready to Work report are all contributing to the momentum that is building in our country to make sure that all Americans have the skills that employers need and that will allow them to get ahead.

 

Johan E. Uvin is the Acting Assistant Secretary for the Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education

Renewing Economic Opportunity for All

UPDATE September 22, 2014: In recognition of Adult Education and Family Literacy Week, September 22-28, 2014, we revisit this blog post recognizing the role of adult education in the economic and social health of our nation. This week allows us to spotlight the many practitioners and volunteers who improve their communities through education and applaud the commitment of learners to improve themselves, their families and their communities through increased education, English proficiency, and workforce preparation.  Get involved and recognize Adult Education and Family Literacy Week in your community. Join the online celebration by including the #AEFLWeek and #AESuccess hashtags in your daily Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram posts.

“For the one million young men and women who are out of school and who are out of work, this program will permit us to take them off the streets, put them into work training programs, to prepare them for productive lives, not wasted lives […] It will help those small businessmen who live on the borderline of poverty. It will help the unemployed heads of families maintain their skills and learn new skills. ”

Photo of President Johnson signing the EOA in a ceremony in the White House rose garden surrounded by onlookers.

President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964.

These words were spoken by President Lyndon B. Johnson on August 20, 1964 as he signed the Economic Opportunity Act (EOA), a keystone of the “War on Poverty.” The EOA created several programs across a number of federal agencies that aimed to “eliminate the paradox of poverty in the midst of plenty in this Nation by opening to everyone the opportunity for education and training, the opportunity to work, and the opportunity to live in decency and dignity.” EOA was a legislative milestone that highlighted the need for investments in high quality education for youth as well as adults. In addition to programs like Head Start, Job Corps, and VISTA, EOA authorized federal grants for adult basic education, which marked the beginning of federal statutory involvement in adult literacy. This Law set the stage for other crucial adult education legislation to address the issue of illiteracy such as the Adult Education Act of 1966 and the National Literacy Act of 1991.

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Which sectors will be adding the most jobs?

Did you know that the health-care sector and social assistance sector (which includes child and youth services and community services) are projected to account for almost one-third of the total increase in employment over the next 10 years? Or that, of the 30 occupations projected to have the largest percentage increase in employment between 2012 and 2022, 14 are related to health care and five are related to construction? Kristina Bartsch, chief of the Division of Occupational Employment Projections at the Bureau of Labor Statistics, discussed industries and occupations projected to gain and lose jobs between 2012 and 2022, and the education needed for those jobs, on C-SPAN’s “America by the Numbers” on January 31.

This story appeared in the February 6 edition of the U.S. Department of Labor Newsletter and was posted in the Youth and Adult Pathways microgroup in LINCS.

You can watch the interview recorded January 31, 2014 on C-SPAN.org.

This Thursday: TAACCCT Grant Applicants Online Panel Discussion

The U.S. Department of Labor and the U.S. Department and Education invite you to attend a live online panel discussion this Thursday, May 23, from 1:30 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. This session will highlight important focus areas for the third round of the Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training (TAACCCT) grant program including employer engagement, capacity building, and innovative service delivery.

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OVAE Visits with 12 for Life Program Representatives

Last week OVAE hosted several visitors from the 12 for Life program to learn more about their innovative education, training and employment program aimed at vulnerable youth in Carrollton, GA and Florence, AL.  The program, which was developed by Southwire in 2007 to address the interrelated dropout and skills crises among youth in Georgia, targets many of the most vulnerable youth who are at the greatest risk of not completing high school. 

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How Articulating the Registered Apprenticeship Certificate to College Credit Creates Opportunity

Now more than ever, maintaining America’s competitive edge requires that workers obtain relevant post-secondary credentials and that employers have access to a well-trained and highly-skilled workforce.  For decades, the national Registered Apprenticeship system and the nation’s extensive network of two- and four-year post-secondary institutions have been at the forefront of providing industry-driven education and training that supports business competitiveness and career advancement for workers.

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Assistant Secretary Visits Kentucky Community College

“Partnerships between community colleges, labor, employers, career and technical education and adult education systems are critical to making it easier for students to transition seamlessly along a career pathway,” said OVAE’s Assistant Secretary, Brenda Dann-Messier, after traveling to Kentucky last week to meet with officials and students from the Kentucky Community Technical College System (KCTCS).

Along with Kentucky Adult Education and the Kentucky Education and Workforce Development Cabinet, KCTCS received an Accelerating Opportunity Grant to provide students with basic skills and career and technical education training at the same time.  Kentucky has been a leader in transforming its adult education system to ease students’ transitions to postsecondary education and training long before it received an Accelerating Opportunity grant.  For instance, Kentucky was one of the first states to bring the Common Core State Standards into its adult education programs to ensure more adult learners in the state are able to enroll in college prepared to succeed.

This effort to align education systems to promote college access and success are also occurring between Kentucky’s high schools and community and technical colleges.  “I was also struck by how Kentucky is working to create these partnerships so that students as early as high school can benefit from aligned systems”, said Dann-Messier after visiting Bluegrass Community and Technical College’s Advanced Manufacturing Center (AMC).

Working together with local Toyota Motor Manufacturing company, Bluegrass’ Advanced Manufacturing Technician Program actively recruits high school students who enroll at the college upon graduation and participate in a “work, learn, and earn” model. Students gain work experience at the Toyota plant three days a week and spend the other two days taking courses at AMC.

Dann-Messier noted, “We need to see more programs like this replicated across the country, where colleges, high schools, and businesses are working together to create rigorous programs that lead to college degrees and provide incentives for students to continue their education and for them to succeed in work.”

Check out additional press coverage from the visit here.

Vanishing Middle-Skill Jobs

The Kansas City Federal Reserve Bank published an article entitled “The Vanishing Middle: Job Polarization and Workers’ Response to the Decline in Middle-Skill Jobs.”  The article appears in their Economic Review, First Quarter 2013.  The research explores the demand side, as well as the supply side, of the employment equation and provides insight into some industries and occupations in CTE career pathways.

You can find the publication on the Kansas City Federal Reserve site here.

Below is a summary from their site:

The Vanishing Middle: Job Polarization and Workers’ Response to the Decline in Middle-Skill Jobs

The share of middle-skill jobs in the United States has fallen sharply in the wake of advancing technology, the rise in outsourcing jobs overseas, and contractions in manufacturing. This shift of employment toward high- and low-skill jobs, known as “job polarization,” is not well understood.

Tuzemen and Willis analyze thirty years of data from the Current Population Survey and show that changes in job composition within industries have been the primary driver of job polarization, not shifts in employment away from industries such as manufacturing.

They also find that women have responded to the trend with increased educational attainment and a pronounced shift toward high-skill jobs, while men have shifted more evenly toward both high- and low-skill jobs.

Career Pathways in Construction and Healthcare Feed Employment Demand

The U.S. Department of Labor reported that the economy added 236,000 non-farm jobs in February, according to their preliminary figures.   Industries that added workers in Career and Technical Education pathways include Construction, Healthcare, Leisure and Hospitality, and the Motion Picture and Sound Recording Industries.

Industries with the most workers added to payrolls in the last month include:

  • +44,100   Admninistrative and Waste Services
  • +39,100   Health care and Social Assistance
  • +31,700   Specialty Trade Contractors
  • +23,700   Retail Trade
  • +20,800   Motion Picture and Sound Recording
  • +26,800   Professional and Technical Services
  • +20,600   Accomodations and Food Services

Industries with largest reductions in the number of workers in the last month include:

  • -31,700    Electronics and Appliance Stores
  • -14,700    Educational Services
  • -10,000    Government

Visit www.BLS.gov to see the press release, access employment figures by industry, and dig deeper into state and local data.

Employment figures based on preliminary data reported by BLS for February 2013.

How OVAE Celebrated 2013 CTE Month

Just like CTE students, teachers, and administrators, OVAE celebrates CTE every day of every month.  However, during the month of February the pride is elevated with celebration and recognition for all that is CTE during “CTE Month”.

We used CTE Month 2013 as an opportunity to collaborate with our colleagues across the U.S. Department of Education (ED) as well as our dedicated professional associations.  We shared the message that it was CTE month and CTE Works! (this year’s theme as designated by the Association of Career and Technical Education (ACTE)).  It seemed that no workspace or office in OVAE was spared a CTE Month poster to hang with pride.  We made sure to say “Happy CTE Month!” in our phone calls, office meetings, and every chance we had.

Secretary Arne Duncan, Deputy Secretary Tony Miller, Undersecretary Martha Kanter, and Assistant Secretary Brenda Dann-Messier all contributed to the OVAE Connection newsletter; supporting articles were also sent through the Teaching Matters newsletter and Homeroom, ED’s official blog.

We were excited and proud to see two CTE students were sitting in the First Lady’s box at President Obama’s State of the Union address.

The week of February 11th saw an increased volume of social media buzz about how CTE professionals and CTSO students were celebrating CTE Month.  On my own hand held device, I read tweets and updates at #CTEMonth and #CareerTech.

ED staff also attended a student recognition event at McKinley Technology High School, which houses a STEM-focused CTE program where students have the opportunity to select one of four pathways in a STEM-related strand. The strands provide students with relevant, real-world project-based learning opportunities that prepare them for postsecondary education and 21st century careers.

On February 21st, ED hosted a policy briefing to all agency staff on how CTE is addressing the nation’s skills gap.  The session included a pair of conversations – one with educators and business leaders, and a second with Career and Technical Students Organizations (CTSO) participants. Check out the blog post recapping the briefing.

Finally, the Secretary visited the Harbor School in New York City, a CTE school that prepare students for success in college and careers through restoration of the local marine environment.

As you can see, OVAE enjoyed celebrating CTE Month and looks forward to celebrating 2014 CTE Month with you next year!

Robin Utz is the Director of the College and Career Transitions Branch in the Division of Academic and Technical Education at OVAE