Prepare people for ‘middle skill’ jobs

November 21, 2016

“Middle-skill” jobs are those that require education beyond a high school diploma but less than a four-year degree. These positions may require complex and evolving communications, customer service, presentation, analytic, and computer skills. The National Skills Coalition reports that key industries are unable to find enough sufficiently trained workers to fill these positions. In New York State, 46 percent of anticipated job openings through 2022 will be in the middle-skill category.

Westchester Community College, serving more than 25,000 students, is well positioned to meet the shifting regional demands of the marketplace. Fueled by our own sense of urgency in how we serve and prepare students, WCC recently participated in a ground-breaking study on the changing nature of the regional economy and the role that middle-skill jobs will play. The study, “Connecting to Promising Careers: Middle-Skill Jobs in the Lower Hudson Valley,” challenges all stakeholders to do a dramatic reassessment of the way that education and training match new and upcoming openings in the regional workforce.

In order to access middle-skill jobs, individuals need skills truly aligned with what employers require, now and in the future. At the same time, training programs must align the credentials they offer with these needs.

Our report focuses on three specific middle-skill occupational clusters: health information management, tech support, and hospitality management. These fields include jobs that pay well, are in-demand, are projected to continue to grow, have opportunities for career advancement over time, and may not currently have an adequate supply of qualified candidates.

Key report findings include:

  • There is a need for more employees in health information management, a fast-growing field in which industry credentials are key to securing jobs. As a result, Westchester Community College is working on initiating new programs to prepare people for high-need positions, such as registered health information technicians. 
  • Employers are finding a shortage of employees with the appropriate combination of technical and customer support skills needed to fill information technology openings. Many individuals can start IT careers with a high school diploma and industry certification, but they may have difficulty moving on to higher level positions without interpersonal and customer service skills.
  • Customer service skills are also “the currency” needed in the hospitality management industry. Over the past decade, this sector grew at a faster rate and added more jobs than any other part of the local economy.

WCC completed the study with the New York City Labor Market Information Service at the CUNY Graduate Center, the New Skills at Work—Lower Hudson Valley Stakeholder Collaborative, and JPMorgan Chase Foundation.

Sarah Steinberg, vice president for global philanthropy at JPMorgan Chase, has called for immediate action in order to prepare the regional workforce for the future. “The employment landscape in the Hudson Valley is changing, and we must ensure we are training people for the jobs of the future, and jobs in demand,” she says. “The report provides a detailed pathway to help correct the mismatch between job skills and employment needs, and it arms government officials, job trainers and employers with the data they need to close this gap.”

Preparing individuals with the education and training necessary to ensure a qualified pipeline of employees to fill middle-skill positions in particular is an essential part of Westchester Community College’s mission. At the heart of the college’s focus on access, transferability, and job readiness, are dedicated faculty working to continuously enrich the curriculum with up-to-date and relevant content as well as applied learning opportunities, internships, project-based learning, and capstone projects.

The regional stakeholders that convened for this project are committed to continuing this work to insure a skilled employee pipeline. In order for the Lower Hudson Valley to continue to thrive, employers must be able to rely on talent drawn from the local workforce. Broad and collaborative engagement by members of the workforce preparation community is key to the alignment of education and training to the needs of industry.

Such synergy is essential to ensure that individuals are prepared for current and future employment opportunities at the middle-skill level and beyond.

The writer is president of Westchester Community College.