By Casey Powers, Climb CEO
In order to solve skills gaps in the long term, education and labor goals in the U.S. need to be more aligned. Congress has reviewed several recent bills aimed at creating more job opportunities for Americans, and one challenge that has been highlighted is the apparent disconnect between America’s labor goals and our education goals — two focus areas that I believe should have an inherent correlation. After all, a typical (or ideal) next step following an adult’s graduation from an education program is to apply those skills in a career, contribute to the community, and financially provide for themselves and their family.
One example of this lack of alignment is the recent infrastructure bill that was passed in order to develop much-needed road safety, transit, and broadband support across our communities and cities. This was a great win, and an important investment that will not only improve our infrastructure but also create more jobs. Creating more jobs is fantastic, yet if these jobs are in sectors where labor shortages are already rampant, then it’s also imperative that we have an equal focus on training more skilled workers to fill these roles. We’re seeing labor shortages in many industries required for this bill to be successfully executed — including manufacturing, construction, and transportation. However, noticeably absent from the funding of the final bill was additional workforce development investment.
This is not the only example of education and training conversations being siloed from labor needs. Following the infrastructure bill, the White House put out a statement on programs designed to increase trained truck drivers in order to address logistics and supply chain labor shortages. This is another great initiative that is necessary to help our economy. In the U.S. there are hundreds of CDL training programs run by local trade schools and career colleges that already have the infrastructure to train students, but they’re not given the same access to funding and financial aid resources as other education. Given that financial access to training is a top factor in determining a student’s ability to attend a program, increasing financial aid access for these institutions is a vital step toward opening doors to training and closing the skills gap.
To close these gaps, public and private stakeholders must focus on expanding access and capacity in the skills training market.
Increased pathways to these programs depend on access to affordable financing. While career training certificates are modestly priced compared to 4-year degrees, most programs still cost more than the average person has in their savings account — meaning that offering funding for these programs is critical to create access and increase the number of skilled workers who are getting trained and entering the workforce.
Funding for career-focused education programs can come from multiple sources, such as Federal Financial Aid, State and local Workforce Development, and the private sector. It’s important that all stakeholders involved prioritize increasing access to financing and financial aid to begin to solve this challenge.
Until we start to consider our country’s education priorities in the context of our labor priorities, these education programs will continue to be under-resourced and under-funded — leading to more skills shortages in our labor force.