How to Fix the Workforce Pipeline: We Need to Think Beyond College

 

I know from first-hand experience that Wisconsin has a major worker shortage. And it is not the only state facing that problem. Sixty per cent of contractors nationwide report difficulty finding skilled workers (posing an especially serious roadblock to quick recovery in areas hit by hurricanes recently).

For states looking to fill the gap between what students are learning vs. the jobs that need to be filled, Wisconsin’s Career Cruising program is worth checking out.

  • The program is available for high school students.
  • It fosters self awareness and a better understanding of where the students’ interests and passions lie.
  • It equips students (and their families) with the tools to make more informed choices about post-secondary education and training to make them career-ready.
  • Wisconsin’s governor and business leaders are urging high school students to consider two-year degree options rather than a traditional four-year degree as they try to fill positions that require more technical training and skills than jobs of the past.
  • As part of the program, technical colleges offer after-school programs e.g. in health care to provide high school students with first-hand experiences of different career options.
  • Students frequently discover that what they “thought” they were interested in, is actually not for them. For example, some come in wanting to be phlebotomists (someone who draws blood) only to discover they want to try for higher-paying careers as physician’s assistants.
  • High school grads who hold technical degrees in machining and have their tool-and-die journeyman card, are making $60,000 a year. They’re homeowners in their 20’s, and unlike their college graduate friends, start life with zero student loan debt.
  • NOTE: I am not anti-college but by the same token, I believe that a master tradesperson or technician offers every bit as much value to the world as a college graduate.

Another workforce education program that gets a big thumbs up is Amazon’s “Career Choice.”

Read on below for more on the classrooms that Amazon operates at their fulfillment and customer service centers to provide the technical training and degrees essential for career advancement.

What it is:

  • Amazon operates a classroom in every one of their fulfillment and customer service centers with at least 1,000 staff members
  • They offer courses in technical and vocational certificates or associate’s degrees
  • Amazon picks up 95% of the tab, and offers employees who reach a new educational plateau a few thousand dollars to quit Amazon to move on to bigger, better jobs.
  • Amazon shapes the program to reflect the specific skills that industries in nearby communities need.
  • In Colorado, for example, classes at the new Amazon fulfillment center will focus on aerospace, information technology, computer science, health care and construction.
  • As soon as an employee achieves the certificate or degree they are seeking, Amazon will offer them a financial incentive to leave.
  • The program aims to give employees the means to move to more lucrative jobs outside the company.
  • Amazon is banking on the creation of a business “ecosystem” that brings fresh crops of qualified, engaged employees back to it.
  • Amazon shares its playbook on the “Career Choice” workforce education program with any company interested in replicating it.

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