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President’s S&T Advisors Stress Need for ‘Middle Skills’ Training

October 02, 2014

New partnerships are needed between the IT community, government and institutions of higher learning to help bridge the American skills gap, according to the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST). In a letter to the president, PCAST notes that online solutions could provide people without secondary degrees with the training needed to fill high-demand IT jobs. Recognizing this need for accessible, lifelong learning resources, the Markle Foundation launched Rework America, a new $50 million effort to create online high-tech job training and entrepreneurship initiative.

PCAST reports that the infusion of technology into the workplace has changed the nature of the skills needed to thrive in the new economy. A certain degree of savviness with information technology is necessary and must be kept up to date through access to training resources. In addition, there are many tech-related jobs in the economy that should not require a traditional secondary degree, but need to be filled by people with appropriate training provided by community colleges, vocational programs, certification-based training and the growing number of web-based educational programs.

However, a great deal of confusion remains about how to connect students with the appropriate programs and employers with qualified workers. In fact, employers often lack the ability to identify the specific skills needed for jobs and any way to assess the skill level of applicants. PCAST identifies three critical challenges in today’s jobs ecosystem: providing information to workers about training programs, connecting businesses with training intuitions to shape curriculum, and helping employers identify talent to fill jobs.

The letter includes three recommendations for improving the worker-trainer-employer ecosystem. First, the federal government should better coordinate its cross-agency efforts and pull together representatives from industry, training providers and workforce agencies. Second, federal agencies should fund the development of information technology to train, provide meaningful credentials, and assess skills. Finally, the federal government, as a major employer, should engage in skills assessment and partner-wide training providers to capitalize on pre-employment and continuing training resources.

Read the PCAST letter report…

Earlier this year, Starbucks launched a prototype effort to connect Starbucks employees with the types of skills described in the PCAST letter. Through a partnership with the University of Arizona, the company announced that part-time and full-time Starbucks employees would have access to 40 academic programs offered online by the university. These employees would be able to receive a bachelor’s degree with full tuition reimbursement for juniors and seniors. The effort, launched in partnership with the Markle Foundation, was specifically designed to help students who had completed some college, but had been unable to finish.

Markle’s Rework America is a broader effort to build on the Starbucks model, connecting workers with the skills they need to succeed in new economy jobs and in starting a business. No specific effort has been outlined, but Markle hopes to expand the availability of online coursework, curriculum tailored to the needs of students and employers, flexible credentialing systems and new ways to assess the skills of applicants and employees. Like the PCAST announcement, Markle is also calling on government, business, academic and foundation partners to assist in the effort.

Read the announcement…

white house, workforce