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Workers in low-quality jobs lack information

Yesterday, I wrote about survey results that revealed that more than 13% of workers in low -quality jobs did not know how to create a pathway for themselves that would lead to a better job. They’re not alone. About one-third of Gen Z individuals who have never enrolled in a degree program or in non-degree program do not know how to create an educational pathway for themselves.

That’s interesting because 2 out of 3 of these young people said they would have considered a non-degree program if they had known more about them.

Traditionally, high schools have encouraged their students to continue their education by enrolling in a degree program. In part, this explains why these young people don’t know about their non-degree options. (In this survey, non-degree options included certificates, industry certifications, and competency-based license programs.)

This sounds like yet another opportunity for community colleges to engage recent high school graduates into some type of structured post-secondary education. Although these options don’t lead to a degree, statistically, people who choose a non-degree path are more likely to be employed than those who do not enter either a post-secondary degree or non-degree program.

This approach aligns with a growing number of Gen Z high school graduates, who aren’t looking for a college degree, but do want a faster, more directed pathway into the workforce and into a meaningful career. These young adults will not be happy with low-wage, low-quality jobs.

This is another opportunity to engage these students, at least some of whom are part of the Class of 2020. They’re not willing to take on educational debt and they don’t want low-quality jobs, but they do want options for getting into meaningful careers.

Community colleges should offer alternatives to low-quality jobs

What do the jobs in this non-degree option look like? In just the past week, I have seen calls for people interested in real estate licensure, and the Free Press published an article on the hardships that ambulance operators are enduring because they cannot find enough emergency medical technicians. Both professions require licensure and training, but not a degree. There are other examples, like trade programs and apprenticeships. These are not low-quality jobs.

Personally, I am not a fan of most non-degree certificates. They typically don’t have the longevity and the lifetime earning capacity that a degree does. Professional certifications are a little different; they offer better longevity, but their earning potential varies substantially. Even with an associate degree, a frequent comment is that they have an expiration date.

For community colleges, these all represent opportunities to engage students who might not otherwise engage with the institution. If community colleges want to be all things to everyone, it seems that the area with the largest critical need is information. Even if community colleges cannot serve these people with degree programs or non-degree certificates, they can provide information about all options that can help a person avoid a low-quality job.

From an ethical standpoint, community colleges must provide information not just about educational options, but also about their immediate and long-term earning potential. Additionally, it would help to provide options or tools to help these people develop long-term career plans.

Community colleges that focus on the needs of their communities are those that are most likely to succeed in their missions.

Photo credit: Eden, Janine and Jim, via Flickr