Press Releases

DelBene Asks Community Colleges to Detail the Skills Gap in the American Work Force

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Washington, D.C., October 4, 2017 | comments

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Congresswoman Suzan DelBene (WA-01) co-chair of the House Democratic Caucus New Economy Task Force, asked community colleges to detail how they are addressing the skills gap in the American work force with the goal of gleaning new information that will help guide policy discussions on the issue in Congress.

DelBene asked community colleges to provide information on the skills being taught in educational institutions and how federal policy could help remedy the disparities between the skills workers currently have and the skills sought by companies for the jobs of tomorrow.

“We have seen many changes in the way the world works and these changes have created great opportunities and painful disruptions. Our collective goal is to make sure workers have the tools they need to take advantage of the opportunities and to overcome the disruptions,” DelBene said. “To ensure workers gain the skills needed to succeed in these new and changing jobs we need strong programs and STEM education – or as I like to say STEAM, because the arts and creative thinking are just as important as we build innovative, lifelong learners. I look forward to hearing from our educators on the ground about ways they think we can address this important issue.”

Despite 6.8 million Americans currently seeking jobs in the United States, a recent survey by the National Federation of Independent Business found 45 percent of small business owners said they were unable to find qualified applicants to fill job openings.

“The skills gap leaves us unable to adequately address one aspect of America’s unemployment problem. Discovering more about how our educational institutions are specifically training students to enter the work force will help House Democrats prepare our future workers for their future careers,” said House Democratic Caucus Chair Joe Crowley (D-NY). “With the leadership of Rep. DelBene, I’m confident in House Democrats’ ability to develop policies that will help give students and workers the opportunities to gain the skillsets needed for the future.”

With a rapidly changing economy and new challenges facing American workers, the New Economy Task Force will take a forward-leaning approach to job growth, looking at rapidly advancing technology, artificial intelligence, advanced manufacturing and ensuring workers are trained for the jobs of tomorrow.

The New Economy Task Force is one of five Democratic Caucus Jobs for America Task Forces, all focused on creating opportunities for growth, boosting hardworking families and giving every worker the opportunity to achieve the American dream by developing legislation focused on investing in key industries. The effort was launched by House Democratic Caucus in September.

For more information on the House Democratic Caucus’ Jobs for America Task Forces, please visit: www.dems.gov/jobsforamerica

Full text of the letter follows:

As Co-chairs of the Democratic Caucus’ New Economy Task Force in the United States House of Representatives, we are interested in learning more about the work being done by the community college system in Washington to address the “skills gap”. We seek your experience, expertise, and input to guide us as we look to shape federal policy in this field, and hope that you can respond to our questionnaire.

Our nation is facing a large and growing gap between the skills our workers possess and those sought by potential employers. The result is there are six million open jobs in the United States, while 6.8 million people looking for work. This disparity is particularly true in the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields. According to U.S. News and World Report, in the 2014-15 school year our nation produced 30,000 STEM graduates to fill 230,000 STEM-related jobs. We also understand that the gap has regional variations, and there are often issues at the local level that are not reflected in the national data we see.

As part of the mission of the New Economy Task Force, we are committed to advancing policies that address this problem and prepare workers with the skills sought by employers. Recent studies demonstrate that career-oriented technical and applied science associate degrees can be more beneficial to some students than bachelor’s degrees, and that community colleges are well prepared to train a greater number of students in these important fields. We have also heard anecdotally that in some fields, students use community colleges to get the skills necessary for a job and leave without graduating, making your programs seem less successful on paper than they truly are.

We need your help to learn more about what works - and what doesn’t – with respect to the opportunities provided to students at community colleges. Our sole focus is to craft good public policy that supports and expands best practices employed by community colleges nationwide to ensure we have both a skilled workforce, and that good jobs are available so people can provide for their families.

To better inform us, we ask that you kindly respond to the questionnaire attached and return it to the Democratic Caucus, at the U.S. House of Representatives by October 15, 2017. Thank you.

QUESTIONNAIRE:

Students:

  • While open access institutions are more diverse than other sectors of higher education, we know that there are still difficulties facing first-generation students, non-traditional students, racial and ethnic minorities, inner-city and rural students, and students with disabilities to access high-quality post-secondary program. What support do your schools offer to help any/all of these populations complete their program in a timely fashion?
  • To what extent do your schools offer programs with the following components: distance learning, online learning, dual enrollment, early college high school, competency-based education, or prior learning assessment? Have you seen differences in the rates of academic success, completion, or job attainment for students in these non-traditional programs from your students taking traditional course work programs?
  • How do you support students working full time and how does your course work partner with their jobs?
  • Do you recommend service and/or training opportunities to your students as a form of outreach to prepare for the workforce? Do your campuses offer aid in obtaining internships, externships, registered apprenticeships, or other work based learning opportunities for students?

Partnering with Private Companies:

  • To what extent do your campuses currently partner with the business sector in their communities? How have these partnerships changed the academic offerings at your schools?
  • To what level are courses and programs aligned with the needs of the local workforce, and how does your institution determine what skills are needed by local employers?

In regions that border multiple states, what are the added challenges to serving job markets in more than one state (licensing, wage disparity etc.)? Are these challenges informing course offerings state-wide, out of state?

  • What does the business sector bring to the table in these partnerships, aside from the promise of employment?
  • To what extent do students take courses necessary to get/advance in a job, and stop put before completing their program?
  • To what extent do you partner with the business community to provide industry-recognized credentials short of an associate’s degree?

STEM:

  • How much of your coursework is STEM focused? To what extent are STEM programs aligned with the four-year public and private institutions in your state?
  • What are the overall challenges, and the steps you are taking on campus to address these challenges, to draw more people into the STEM fields, particularly racial and ethnic minorities, first-generation students, and women?
  • To what extent does the lack of infrastructure limit the ability to offer cutting edge STEM programs that have value in the job market?
  • Would programs that incentivize the business community to donate equipment and other infrastructure items be worthwhile? Is the current tax deduction for donation of computers and other technology beneficial or not?

Role of the Government:

  • What current Federal policies in existence now help you in the mission of educating our students to fill the millions of skilled jobs of today? What policies at the Federal level hinder this mission?
  • Are there new policies the Federal government should consider to enhance the work you do and help us close the skills gap and provide every American the education and training they need to fill the jobs open currently? As well as new jobs in the future?

Best Practices:

  • Could you highlight the best practices of some of your state’s community colleges that could be scaled and implemented at the national level to aid in closing the skills gap?

Community colleges have the opportunity to improve how our economy connects potential employers with future employees while also providing a pathway to a high quality job and a middle class life style. For that reason, we greatly appreciate you taking the time to provide us first-hand knowledge of your programs and the experiences you have had. We hope that this will better inform us as we try to craft policy to help every American get the right job to support themselves and their families.

Sincerely,

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