Workforce Update: Workers without a college degree are disproportionately impacted by Covid-19 job losses

By Rachel Vilsack, July 09, 2020

Economic recessions impact workers across all industries. But adult workers with no postsecondary education have historically suffered the most from job losses during a recession and take the longest to fully recover compared to those with college degrees. And with state budget shortfalls projected to be worse than during the Great Recession, federal and state stimulus investments must support the reskilling needs of adult learners.


Educational attainment of unemployed workers

Unemployment rates for workers across all levels of educational attainment increased substantially due to the Covid-19 pandemic, but workers without a college degree have been disproportionately impacted. In February 2020 – the official start of the recession – unemployment rates for adult workers age 25 and over with no high school diploma were nearly three times higher than four-year degree holders. By June, average unemployment rates for adult workers across all educational attainment levels had declined, but workers with less than a high school diploma (16.6%) and those with only a high school diploma (12.1%) still remained above average (11.1%).

State stay-at-home orders magnified these effects. Workers with a bachelor’s degree or higher (37%) were already more likely to work from home than those with only a high school diploma (16%), according to the American Time Use Survey conducted by the Census Bureau. Yet not all workers who can work from home do so. Recent job-level analyses on the ability to telework show that while 2 in 3 workers with a bachelor’s degree or higher could work from home, only 1 in 10 workers with less than a high school diploma and 1 in 4 workers with only a high school diploma held jobs that supported teleworking, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Working adults need access to upskilling opportunities – and the wraparound services to support their success – to compete for in-demand and any new jobs created by federal stimulus bills. A new report found that many workers looking to change careers say they’d need to reskill in order to do so, and only 4 in 10 workers with a high school diploma or less have access to the education and training they want to pursue.


Defining quality non-degree credentials

When displaced workers do look to pursue training, recent survey results show that it is likely to be in a non-degree program to acquire the skills they need for work, or to obtain a certificate or license. This public sentiment reinforces the need to define what makes a quality credential, so that students and adult learners have a clear and successful pathway to better jobs and avoid predatory training providers that leave students with debt and an unmarketable credential.

This spring, National Skills Coalition launched a Quality Postsecondary Credential Policy Academy to assist 6 states in adopting a consensus definition of quality non-degree credentials. A quality definition must be informed by transparent evidence of the value of a credential to meet the needs of employers, a public process that includes input by key stakeholders, and it must position the student to make informed decisions about their education and employment goals. A quality assurance process can also benefit states who need a way to effectively and efficiently allocate limited federal and state training dollars.

Key criteria for defining quality non-degree credentials, include:

  • Evidence of substantial job opportunities associated with the credential. While what is considered “substantial” will vary by state or region, quantitative data and employer feedback must aid in evaluating the market demand for the occupation(s) the credential is associated with. Use of real-time labor market data, existing sector partnerships, or emerging industries that represent a regional economic development strategy are all potential data sources to inform labor demand.
  • Evidence that competencies are mastered by credential holders. Rather than fulfill a standard number of hours or credits, the student should demonstrate proficiency – often validated by a third-party, like a certifying or licensing body – on the learning outcomes required for the credential and valued by the employer to perform the occupation.
  • Evidence of the employment and earnings outcomes of individuals after obtaining the credential. In short, it is key to accurately track and record outcomes to ensure that the credential provides individuals with the means to achieve their employment goal. Making these outcomes available to students to support their decision-making process is encouraged, as is disaggregating outcomes data to ensure racially equitable attainment.
  • Credential stackability is also a preferred addition to a quality non-degree credential definition, especially during an economic recovery where short-term training for an in-demand job may be necessary for an individual to find a quick route to stable employment, while also providing an on-ramp to a career pathway.


How workforce advocates can get involved

Displaced workers without a college degree need access to federal and state job training programs or financial aid to support short-term, market-driven upskilling. The White House-led American Workforce Policy Advisory Board issued a call-to action in May that supported extending federal financial aid to short-term training programs aligned with the needs of employers to expedite reconnecting displaced workers to businesses who face a shortage of qualified talent and modernize American education and training.

State workforce agencies can also apply for the Department of Education’s Reimagining Workforce Preparation grants, from funds authorized under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. These grants support the creation or expansion of short-term education and training programs aligned with the needs of workers and industry. States must work to develop quality assurance mechanisms and make publicly available the credentials and competencies delivered under the grant. A recent NSC blog detailed this grant announcement and its key requirements.

Take action and join our coalition to stay engaged on how you can support the reskilling needs of American workers to participate fully in the economic recovery.