How community colleges can help students launch sustainable careers

In years past, graduates with an associate degree or a certificate could land a middle-skill job and enjoy stable wages and career mobility, Matt Parke writes for Working Nation. But a study suggests middle-skill jobs are no longer a guaranteed path to a sustainable career.  

To create the study, Jobs for the Future, Burning Glass Technologies, and the Lumina Foundation analyzed nearly four million anonymized resumes from four middle-skill employment sectors: IT, healthcare, business, and manufacturing. Researchers discovered three types of middle-skill jobs available in these sectors: lifetime, springboard, and static.

Workers in a lifetime job, like nurse practitioners or dental hygienists, have little room for career advancement, but enjoy long-term stability. Professionals in a springboard job, which are most often found in business and IT, have a high potential for career growth if they keep improving their skills or earning industry-recognized certificates, write the researchers.

But workers in a static job like manufacturing suffer from high turnover, low wages, and little career advancement. These workers are also at risk of being displaced by automation down the line, writes Parke. Roughly 1.4 million people will lose their jobs by 2026 as a result of technological change, predicts one study from the World Economic Forum and the Boston Consulting Group. For around 70% of them, the change will happen because their job type ceases to exist.

College administrators need to guide students towards middle-skill careers that can withstand technological disruption, writes Parke. To do so, the researchers suggest that administrators take a look at graduates' career trajectories—not just their first job out of college. For example, a community college grad may have a manufacturing job lined up after graduation, but may lose that job in 10 years due to automation, writes Parke.

Community colleges need to stay abreast of industry trends to ensure their graduates can survive in the changing middle-skill landscape. Administrators can start by better aligning their curriculum to the industries they serve through employer partnerships, the researchers recommend (Parke, Working Nation, 7/30/18; Jobs for the Future report, accessed 8/2/18).

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