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Skills gap could increase enrollment

COVID-19 has done a number on businesses in just about every sector. But the corporate response to the pandemic provides ample opportunity for community colleges to increase enrollment. At the same time, community colleges can help local businesses recover from the impact of the “Great Resignation.”

When the pandemic hit, many companies responded by issuing hiring freezes. Hiring new employees is one way in which companies introduce new skills into the corporate environment. Hiring freezes prevent this kind of evolution from occurring.

Data from the Gartner Group shows that the number of skills an employee needs to complete their current job increases by 10% per year. Nearly 60% of the workforce needs new skills right now to be able to perform their current jobs. Further, in 2017, one-third of skills that employers sought for certain jobs were already obsolete when they posted a job. Compounding the problem are the number of resignations and retirements employers are dealing with and the difficulty in filling open positions.

Two things come to mind. First, community colleges can help companies and employees reskill or upskill. Community colleges can find ways to help employers determine what skill sets are missing among their current employees, and what skill sets they’ll need to move the company forward.

Second, the approach of training workers for a job instead of a career may be responsible for the rapid obsolescence workers are experiencing. This ultimately costs businesses more money in the form of increased training, recruiting, and hiring expenses, and diminishes the company’s ability to move forward.

Encouraging students to enroll in degree programs instead of certificate programs is one way to slow the obsolescence problem. Given a broader educational base, employees are better equipped to adapt to rapidly changing workplace demands.

Upskilling programs can help increase enrollment

Upgrading academic programs and evaluating them for areas of obsolescence is also critical. Missing this step means that community colleges may continue to teach obsolete skills. It also means the institution can miss opportunities to increase enrollment.

In short, with nearly 6 in 10 workers needing some form of skill-based training, it seems unlikely that community colleges have no work to do. Helping employers identify and understand their skills gap is only the first step. Second, it is important to identifying employees and potential employees who have skill sets that are adjacent to the existing skill gaps. With some additional education, these workers can quickly fill an employer’s needs.

Community colleges have plenty of work to do, and that work will keep coming as workers’ skills erode. It’s a matter of developing the right tools at the right depth to help Washtenaw County’s workers.

Photo Credit: Kristian Dye , via Flickr