Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Jobs of Tomorrow

Mary Jean Ryan just sent me a link to an outstanding report from the President's Council of Economic Advisers entitled, "Preparing the Workers of the Today for the Jobs of Tomorrow." The report outlines the jobs likely to grow in the next five to ten years and makes recommendations as to how we can be prepared to take advantage of the opportunities in the global economy.

The Council points to a promising future for Washington State. First of all, we are well positioned to take advantage of the jobs of the future.

First of all, the authors project that a higher household savings rate will hamper aggregate demand. However, other types of spending will fill the breach namely exports and business fixed investment. Trade deficits will narrow and exports will increase. Washington state is the most trade dependent state in the country. Increased exports will bolster our state's aerospace, software, woods products, business services and metals industries.

Overwhelmingly, health care dominates the projected job growth over the next decade. This bodes well for both Spokane and Seattle who are both regional health care centers and Seattle a hub of medical research. Even in today's deep recession, there are nearly 10,000 job vacancies in health care in Washington State.

Strong growth is also expected in construction. Much of that growth will be related to clean energy and environmental protection. Environmental related jobs are expected to grow by 52% as compared to 14% for all other occupations. Jobs such as environmental engineering technicians and electrical power line installers and repairers are already going begging. Some 81,000 new jobs in energy efficiency are expected in Washington State over the next 30 years with construction accounting for nearly 3/4.

The third area of growth the report focuses on is air transport and aerospace. Aircraft mechanics, service technicians, aerospace machinists, service technicians and mechanical drafters are expected to see significant job growth. The trick here will be to figure out how to ensure that Boeing's commercial airline production continues to center in Seattle.

The report emphasizes that the job most in demand are in occupations that require an associates degree or a post-secondary vocational award. Employment growth in those arena's exceeds that of jobs requiring a bachelor's degree or higher. Contrary to conventional wisdom the Council argues that these jobs yield similareconomic returns as bachelors degrees.

The report touts Washington state as a national leader in workforce education pointing to the state's worker retraining program and the I-Best program which combines ESL and basic skills with job specific training.

The recommendations echo many of conclusions reached by other researchers and practitioners within the last year:

First of all, the system needs to be simplified. Everything from financial aid, to career planning as well as the design of federal programs is so complicated it is amazing they work at all. Financial aid officers at Washington Community Colleges and WorkSource centers tear their hair out trying to sort through financial aid or support service opportunities.

Secondly, education and training should be linked to jobs and job ladders that allow people to move up the career ladder over their lifetime. Career pathways can be mapped out as early as middle school and post secondary programs should help students navigate the course offerings that lead to a specific jobs. Obviously, for this to work, there have to be very close relationships with employers and educators.

Finally, education and training needs to be more flexible. The vast majority of the workers our economy needs in the next 20 years are already in the workforce. Our education system needs to be accessible to people who are working full time and have family obligations. The pedagogy and the curriculum needs to tuned to different types of learners as well.

Washington state look well positioned to take advantage of the changing economy and it appears that we have already made many of the right decisions on how to get there.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

An Opportunity Agenda?

Over the past five years I've had the privilege of working with Rep. Phyllis Kenney and Speaker Frank Chopp on a program known as Opportunity Grants.

Currently, the program is a pilot project that is serving nearly 4,000 students at community and technical colleges throughout Washington. The program has had a student retention rate of over 80% exceeding that of all other programs.

In this blog, I want to layout the overall vision of the program to share the initial plan in the hopes of jump starting thinking on how to move forward from here.

The original legislation funded two studies to identify the barriers to enrollment and completion in professional and technical education programs. Researchers interviewed financial aid officers, Work Source counselors and students

The research was pretty clear. The number one barrier was lack of financial aid. Number two was the lack of career coaching on college campuses. Students were unable to navigate the college system starting with figuring out the financial aid system, getting help with their studies and getting information on how to find a sequence of courses that would lead to a real job. The third barrier was a lack of support services.

In 2006, legislation was passed that provided $23 million in funding for Opportunity Grants. The grant is sort of a hybrid of some promising low income and TANF programs designed for low income students and Hope Grants in Georgia.

The original legislation had three components:

1. A basic grant was provided to cover tuition, books, tools and fees. The bill recognized that the costs of books, fees and tools most often exceeded tuition expenses. The idea was that the students could then use their Pell Grant for living expenses.

2.. An FTE enhancement for each student that went to the college to provide for career coaching and support services. Higher Education funding in Washington state assumes that the highest cost education is at research universities and the lowest cost at community colleges. The problem with that formula being that low income working adults face the biggest barriers to completion and the cost of effectively serving those students is not recognized in the funding formula. The Opportunity Grant provided an additional funding for each FTE in the program to cover coaching, counseling and support services.

3. The bill created Opportunity Partnerships that linked students receiving grants would link up with employers or apprenticeship councils that would provide internships, work-study or apprenticeships for participating students. This section of the bill was not funded and thus vetoed by the Governor in 2007. However, in 2009, Rep. Tim Probst sponsored HB 1365 that put the program in stautute.

As originally drafted, the bill was designed to be phased in from a pilot to a universal program. While taken out of the bill the bill that passed it had a life of its own in during the Governor's Washington Learns programs as a universal 13th year.

The program offers a funding model for much of the new thinking we are seeing at the state and national level. If you add two more components to the program you could have a comprehensive model.

The first addition would be to link the program to changes in curriculum, instruction and delivery of programs that embeds development education within professional and technical programs. Many students are unprepared for college level work but are unable to sustain the long period of time to complete developmental programs. Linking the two creates a career pathway that could be more effective.

The second would be to tightly link the grants to the needs of business. In 2002, we funded a study that interviewed businesses in each industry and region of the state on what colleges could do to more effectively meet the needs of business. Business leaders indicated that what they needed were college instructors who knew their industry. This research led to the The Center of Excellence program at the state community college board. The role of each cente was to identify for each major industry in every region of the state curriculum and instruction that is designed to meet the needs of industry.

Are we on the right track?