Training, skills gap in media spotlight as economy becomes focus of election

By Nicky Lauricella Coolberth, August 31, 2016

Training programs, career and technical education, and the middle skills gap are in the national media spotlight this month, including two recent stories featuring National Skills Coalition – just as we head into election debate season.

This month, NPR’s Marketplace and the Christian Science Monitor consulted with NSC for insight on job-driven investments in skills training, and the idea that our economy desperately needs people trained to the middle-skill level, not just those with four-year degrees.

In the Marketplace story entitled, “Skills Training is Having a Moment” NSC Chief of Staff Rachel Unruh explained, “right now and in the next ten years, the largest portion of jobs are going to be in that middle area, the jobs that require more than high school, but less than a four-year degree, but that's not really how we invest,” Even though the jobs that require a four-year degree are a much smaller part of the labor market, we invest considerably more resources in preparing people for those jobs,” 

The Christian Science Monitor article entitled “Training programs promise good jobs without college degrees. Can they deliver?” highlighted National Skills Coalition’s analysis on middle skill jobs, publishing an NSC graphic showing how middle-skill jobs make up 54% of jobs in the U.S. economy, but only 44% of U.S. workers are trained at the middle-skill level. And CEO Andy Van Kleunen weighed in on how four-year degrees aren’t the only path to a good job. “There was an ideology and philosophy that the only good job out there is one for which you need a four-year degree,” Andy Van Kleunen, chief executive officer of the coalition, tells the Monitor. “The data never showed that.”

The issue of the economy is likely to take center stage during the election season – and there’s plenty of evidence candidates want to talk about skills. Recently, in a major address given at a manufacturing plant in Michigan, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton laid out her economics agenda and asserted that, “a four-year degree should not be the only path to a good job in America.”

Vice Presidential Candidate Tim Kaine has advocated for apprenticeship and career and technical education throughout his career. Most recently, he introduced the JOBS Act which would expand Pell grants for workforce training and short term credentials in addition to traditional two and four year degree programs.

And former Presidential candidate John Kasich penned an oped for the New York Times advocating for connecting training opportunities with TANF.

Throughout the election season and beyond, NSC will be a resource to reporters covering skills issues, and a voice on our key issue: getting workers and industry the skills they need to compete.