SHIFT HAPPENS: Shifting the Model from Education to Employment

Workforce Week at the White House came and went. The buzz word was apprenticeships. This administration wants to see opportunities for opening pathways to employment via apprenticeship, but the status of our country’s unemployment situation calls for much more.

The facts are grim. As the President and Treasury Secretary have rightly said, America’s low unemployment rate, currently at 4.3 percent, is a misleading snapshot. Research indicates that close to 50% of Americans consider themselves in jobs that are not at their skill level (i.e. underemployed). Recent job reports show that almost 7 million Americans are filing for unemployment and many more have just given up, thus the number is much larger. Higher education costs are rising, with debts strapping down those that start college and don’t complete, thus leaving them with debts and still unemployed. And, even those that complete a have close to 50% under-employed/unemployed rates.

Young adults ages 16-24 are at an all-time high in unemployment. It’s been a lost decade for young Americans in terms of employment. In 2000, 45 percent of teens ages 16-19 were employed. By 2011, just 26 percent of teens were employed. Rates for young adults ages 20-24 also plummeted during this time frame, from 72 percent to 60 percent. (Opportunity Nation, 2017)

And, the pain goes both way. Not only are citizens seeking employment complaining, but so are companies. Employers across the U.S. state that they are not having success in identifying workers with the appropriate skills to fill open and available jobs. In some regions, as much as 65% of jobs are requiring degrees for positions that are mid-skill positions, and only 20% of the population has degrees. (Source:. Innovate+Educate, Chmura Economics and Analytics, JobsEQ, 2017)

SHIFT must happen in big ways to tackle these big numbers. And, it is. Beyond apprenticeship, employers are working to identify new pathways to employment based on skills. For example, there are ways to identify skills and qualifications such as critical thinking, communication and teamwork, and if employers hire based on skills rather than degree or experience, a whole new talent pool is available. This can reveal a talent pool as much as 33% more than employers see under traditional methodologies. And completion does not have to mean a four-year degree. Many qualified candidates can receive a certificate/credential/two-year associates degree with a lot less time and money if they understand the job opportunities at the end.

At a recent hiring fair in Albuquerque, NM (Job-Ready Hire), we spoke to young adults that went through an assessment and then received a skills badge at the hiring fair. The employers had learned about the skills assessment and recognized its value. No resumes were there, no experience and degree questions, just skills. Close to 400 of the 630 young adults were either hired or moved to the hiring process immediately, as they had the skills employers needed to “get the job done”.

What does this mean for youth? Derek Williams, age 23 said, “This was not like any job fair that I had ever been to. Even if I didn’t have work experience or was not able to articulate my skill set, the hiring fair did that for me. The assessments highlighted my skills that the employers were looking for. My badge was like a resume, but instead of focusing just on my education or work experience, it helped me talk about the core skills I had, and even where I got them. This was a huge confident boost for me.”

“We continue to learn more about strategies to address youth unemployment in the U.S. The challenges are there, and our strategies are to look at data/evidence around the skills that opportunity youth can offer to the workforce today,” said Abigail Carlton, Managing Director, The Rockefeller Foundation. “Key to this is abandoning the misconceptions about opportunity youth and transforming outdated hiring practices. This will enable employers to find talent as well as build a high-quality entry-level workforce and move the needle on youth employment.”

Strada Education and Gallup Education have focused on research and data indicating that there are opportunities for many multiple pathways to successful higher education completion as well as training leading to employment. Walmart Foundation’s $100 million initiative focuses on advancing front line workers to middle skill jobs through training and education. And, The Rockefeller Foundation’s focus on Impact Hiring is identifying strategies that will impact the bottom line of both the citizen’s pocketbook as well as the employer’s ROI.

The SHIFT is here to stay, so here’s to all employers realizing the validity of the shift in their own hiring and expanding access for citizens via Apprenticeships, Skills Based Hiring, and incumbent mobility. It is a good bet, and if I were a gambler I would bet on an entirely new global employment system within 10 years.

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