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No College Degree? Fed’s Got Your Back

In an era of plummeting community college enrollment, the Philadelphia Fed is looking out for workers who don’t have a college degree. It recently introduced a new tool it calls the Occupational Mobility Explorer.

The idea behind the tool is to link workers with no college degree to higher wage occupations that can repurpose a person’s existing skill set. These jobs, which the Philadelphia Fed calls “opportunity occupations” pay higher than the median wage and have a relatively easy transition path.

Prior to the pandemic, low-wage workers and those without a college degree could find employment but had little ability to advance. Lack of advancement limited the wages they could earn. In 2020, at the onset of the pandemic, unemployment disproportionately affected this group of workers. A significant number of these workers could not work from home. Their employers may have shut down operations because their industries were not considered “critical.”

In other cases, the pandemic had the opposite effect on this group. Some of these workers were classified as front line workers and were required to remain on the job as the pandemic raged around them.

Who needs a college degree?

According to the Department of Labor, there are more than 11 million unfilled jobs in the US right now. Some of these jobs represent offer upward mobility to workers with no college degree. About 20% of these unfilled positions are the “opportunity jobs” the Philadelphia Fed has identified. About two-thirds of them represent entirely new jobs created by employers who want to expand their payrolls. The other one-third are existing jobs for which employers have dropped a previous college degree requirement.

Enter the Occupational Mobility Explorer. The tool allows a worker to select his or her location and current occupation. Then the tool maps the worker’s current skill set to those of opportunity jobs. This allows workers to build pathways to higher-wage occupations. (Try it. It’s kind of fun.)

There’s not a lot of upside to low-wage occupations right now. The vast number of open, low-wage jobs is a messenger to community colleges. So is the Fed creating a tool that assists people with no college degree to map a college-free career path.

Low-wage employers and community colleges have made themselves two sides of the same coin. Workers want nothing to do with either one – and for the same reason. No one wants to work for pennies on the dollar.

If community colleges want to increase their enrollments, they need to eliminate the degree programs that support low-wage occupations.

Photo Credit: Michel Curi, via Flickr