Workforce development incorporates specific measures to improve professional and personal growth necessary for securing a stable job and ensuring financial independence. Since a majority of low-income families experience a large amount of debt, obtaining and maintaining a job is necessary and ensures financial stability. Through workforce development, low-income families are offered the opportunity to improve their education and occupation skills in order to maintain their current jobs and increase opportunities for career advancement.
Research has demonstrated that there is an ever increasing gap between educated and uneducated individuals, which further weakens the economic stability of the uneducated population. In 2007, almost one-half of all job openings required more than a high school education; in 2006, 57 percent of low-income working families were headed by parents with no post-secondary education.1 Offering employment training programs to enhance an individual’s educational level and skills can create tremendous career opportunities and result in greater family economic success. Policymakers should help promote workforce policies that will create career advancement programs and help create opportunities for low-incomes families to achieve educational success and ensure financial stability.
How is workforce development linked to economic opportunity and economic development?
According to The Working Poor Families Project, America’s educational systems continue to poorly prepare workers for jobs requiring higher skills.2 At the same time, the economy is comprised of a larger share of low-paying jobs, with an increase of 4.7 million jobs paying a poverty-level wage from 2002 to 2006.3
A major challenge moving ahead will be to raise the education and skills of America’s workers to meet the needs of the changing economy. Almost one-half of all job openings require more than a high school education, yet as noted in the Report of the National Commission on Adult Literacy, 88 million adult workers are not prepared for these positions; 25 million of these adult workers lack a high school degree or its equivalent.4,5 At the same time, combined federal and state government resources for such programs as adult education or skills development serve approximately one-tenth of the need.
Additional research indicates that strong economies are characterized by an abundance of well-paying jobs; and overwhelmingly, well-paying jobs are held by individuals who have knowledge and skills obtained through education beyond high school. Simply put, human capital drives economies in the information age.6
From a global perspective, leadership in educational attainment has been achieved largely because those Americans now approaching retirement age are more highly educated than their counterparts in other countries. But when it comes to the younger generation, the U.S. global position has slipped considerably. The U.S. now ranks eighth among the industrialized countries of the world in the proportion of the population age 25 to 34 with at least an associate’s degree. Among the fastest-growing groups within the country’s young adult population—African-Americans and Hispanics—college attainment levels have fallen far below those required for the U.S. to remain competitive.6
Facts about Workforce Development and Adult Learning
The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that between 2004 and 2014, 24 of the 30 fastest-growing occupations in the U.S. will be filled by people who have a postsecondary education or training credentials and trends in the workplace suggest that employers’ demand for skilled U.S. workers will continue to grow over time. - National Governors Association, NGA Center for Best Practices, “The Pathways to Advancement Project: How States Can Expand Postsecondary Educational Opportunities for Working Adults,” 2009
The U.S. must produce 64 million degrees between 2005 and 2025 to remain competitive with leading nations and meet labor force needs. At the current degree-awarding rate, a gap of 16 million degrees is anticipated. - National Center for Higher Education Management Systems, “Adding It Up.”
In the U.S., more than 59 million people, or 30 percent of the adult population, are untouched by postsecondary education. In 35 states, more than 60 percent of the population does not have an associate’s degree or higher.- Council for Adult and Experiential Learning, “Adult Learner in Focus.”
Between 2005 and 2025, one-third of states are projected to experience no growth or a decline in the number of adults ages 25-44, which increases pressure on these states to increase college participation and completion among other segments of the population. - National Center for Higher Education Management Systems, “Adding It Up."
• Forty percent of the nation’s 16 million college and university students are 25 years of age or older.- Council for Adult and Experiential Learning, “Adult Learner in Focus.”
Non-traditional students – for example, those who have delayed enrollment in postsecondary education, work full-time while enrolled, or have dependents other than a spouse – are more likely than traditional students to participate in distance education and to be in programs available entirely through distance education.- Council for Adult and Experiential Learning, “Adult Learner in Focus.”
Joyce Foundation: Shifting Gears Program
Jobs requiring some postsecondary education are expected to grow faster than average between 2006 and 2016, yet too many workers lack the skills and credentials essential for these twenty-first century jobs. For workers, employers, and the Midwest as a whole, addressing this mismatch is becoming an economic imperative. The Joyce Foundation launched the Shifting Gears initiative in 2006 to help five Midwest states address this problem. These states - Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin - are re-engineering adult education, workforce development and postsecondary education policies to support economic growth and expand job opportunities for low-skilled workers in the Midwest. For more information visit www.shifting-gears.org.
Breaking Through: Jobs for the Future
Breaking Through promotes and strengthens the efforts of 41 community colleges in 22 states to help low-skilled adults prepare for and succeed in occupational and technical degree programs. Counteracting high attrition rates in adult basic education and developmental education programs, Breaking Through colleges improve outcomes by focusing on strategies that create effective pathways through pre-college and degree-level programs and result in college completion. The initiative is proving that low-skilled adults can advance through remediation and credential programs within a reasonable time and with reasonable success. For mor information visit: http://www.jff.org/projects/current/workforce/breaking-through/20.
Midwestern Higher Education Compact: Policy and Research Suggestions
To assist Midwestern states in their decision-making processes and to showcase examples of best practices in member states across the region, MHEC fosters dialogues about policy and practice between policymakers and postsecondary education leaders and serves as a vehicle for information exchange across the region. Specific initiatives include:
• A series of policy briefs presenting recent state-level data related to timely and significant issues;
• A series of policy reports devoted to salient postsecondary education policy issues impacting the region;
• The Midwest PERL, an online postsecondary education resource library, serving as both a web-based data book, for the region and a library of policy reports and other resources searchable by postsecondary issue, sector and institutional type; and
• Forums and summits for policymakers, educators, business leaders and others to foster dialogue about best practices and policy options including challenges and opportunities for individual states and the region.
For more information visit: http://www.mhec.org/MHECHomePage
Complete College: State By State Statistics and Graphs Concerning Higher Education Rates
Established in 2009, Complete College America is a national nonprofit with a single mission: to work with states to significantly increase the number of Americans with quality career certificates or college degrees and to close attainment gaps for traditionally underrepresented populations.
The need for this work is compelling. Between 1970 and 2009, undergraduate enrollment in the United States more than doubled, while the completion rate has been virtually unchanged. We've made progress in giving students from all backgrounds access to college -- but we haven't finished the all-important job of helping them achieve a degree. http://www.completecollege.org/docs/Time_Is_the_Enemy_Profiles.pdf
Indiana's Workforce Investment Act (WIA)
In this legislation WIA training funds will be used for prior learning assessments (PLA). Passed unanimously, this resolution recognizes PLA as a key workforce investment strategy and binds the legislature to develop policies that will help citizens, especially veterans, translate their on-the-job learning into college credit. Similar discussions are happening in Oregon, where state leaders are launching a PLA Task Force at the legislative level. This Task Force will look at how PLA might best be used to improve the completion rates and job-readiness of its citizens. A key player in encouraging this legislation has been The Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL). CAEL was on the news in Memphis as a local affiliate focused on CAEL’s online prior learning assessment service. To watch the viedo and learn more click here.
1. The Workforce Alliance; Working Poor Families Project
2. Working Poor Families Project, Still Working Hard, Still Falling Short
3. In 2006, $9.91 is the hourly wage a full-time worker needs to meet the poverty threshold for a family of four.
4. The Workforce Alliance, Harry Holzer and Robert Lerman, America’s Forgotten Middle-Skill Jobs: Education and Training Requirements in the Next Decade and Beyond, 2007
5. National Commission on Adult Literacy, Reach Higher America: Overcoming the Crises in the U.S. Workforce, June 2008
6. National Center for Higher Education Management Systems, Dennis Jones and Patrick Kelly, The Emerging Policy Triangle: Economic Development, Workforce Development, and Education, May 2007