Technical, vocational options enhance economic opportunities

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Published: August 20,2007

U.S. Department of Labor statistics show that, in the last 50 years, the percentage of jobs in America requiring a baccalaureate or professional degree has remained constant at 20%. During that same time period, however, the number of jobs requiring skilled labor (defined by the federal government as some skill or technical training beyond high school) has increased from 15% to 65% of the total workforce.

According to the National Association of Manufacturers in its 2005 Skills Gap report, more than 80% of their members are experiencing serious shortages of skilled workers.

According to a 2002 survey by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Center for Workforce Preparation, nearly 75% of employers report severe conditions when trying to hire qualified workers, while 40% say that applicants are poorly skilled, and 30% say that applicants have the wrong skills for available jobs. According to a USA Today poll conducted in 2005, industries such as manufacturing, energy, construction, financial services and healthcare are reporting problems with shortages of skilled labor.

Job growth

Bureau of Labor Statistics’ projections indicate that eight out of the top 10 occupations with the largest job growth through 2014 will require an associate’s degree or vocational training. Further, Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs help prepare students for all 20 of the fastest-growing occupations identified in the U.S. Department of Labor’s “Occupational Outlook Handbook” (2006-2007 edition), and in all 14 job sectors identified by the Department of Labor’s High Growth Job Training Initiative.

The reality of these statistics has contributed to a phenomenon known as reverse transfer. Reverse transfers are those students who enroll in two-year institutions after earning credits from or even graduating from a four-year institution. The research has shown that, across the nation, many students who have completed baccalaureate degrees return to the community college to obtain additional skills needed to enter the workforce. Additionally, those who are already in the workforce return to update the technical skills required to stay current in the work environment.

Responding quickly, efficiently

The community and junior colleges in Mississippi are uniquely positioned to respond quickly and efficiently to industry demand and workforce needs. We develop our curricula in response to the needs of industry. In fact, industry partnerships are vital in our being able to ensure we are adequately preparing our students for the changing workplace. Currently, we offer standardized curricula aligned with industry standards in more than 120 different career and technical programs designed to prepare individuals for work high skill, high wage or high demand occupations. These programs range from one-year certificates to two-year associate of applied science degrees and include everything from pipe-fitting to polymer technology. In 2005-06, 19,346 students were enrolled in Mississippi community and junior college career-technical programs. According to the FY 2005-06 federal “Perkins III Consolidated Annual Report” (CAR), 90.73% of those students who completed degrees or certificates that year were placed in employment.

Making an impact

Our challenge in Mississippi is to overcome the perception that career and technical (or vocational) education is for those who can’t cut it in college.

The national data show that career and technical education is a viable option and in some cases the best option for gaining employment, even for those who have already completed a baccalaureate degree.

If we are successful, there is no doubt that we will dramatically impact Mississippi’s economy, enhancing our ability to attract business and industry and increasing both the employment potential and the earnings potential of our citizens.

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