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4 Ways Community Colleges Are Responding to the Skills Gap Crisis

The skills gap is no longer a looming threat—it’s already upon us. Community colleges nationwide are responding to the challenge with initiatives targeting in-demand jobs.

The skills gap is well and truly here. After years of warnings, businesses are now experiencing the lack of qualified workers across all sectors. The pandemic might have expedited the crisis, but it has only ever been the final straw.

Community colleges have long known that they would be key players in any public response to the skills gap, and many have taken steps accordingly. We are now seeing the results of this shift in enrollment data, where programs focused on skilled trades are bucking the otherwise dismal trends. In particular, four strategies appear to be bearing the most fruit. Here’s a look at the top ways community colleges are pivoting in response to the skills gap.

1. Upgrading curriculums for traditional trade jobs.

For many years, as students moved away from trade careers, curriculums for those programs went through relatively slow upgrade cycles. But more recently, not only has interest in these programs returned, but trade jobs themselves have undergone a tremendous sea change in the skills required to perform them.

Lorain County Community College heard from local employers that the manufacturing industry was shifting from steel and automotive parts toward microchips and circuit boards. Instead of donning coveralls to solder metal components together, workers were pulling on clean room suits to protect these delicate components from damage during manufacture. With so many manufacturers investing in advanced technology—both as an output and as manufacturing tools in their own right—the training for these jobs needed a significant update. Their program now specializes in various electromechanical systems jobs to keep workers skilled up.

2. Investing in programs for new specialized industries.

While older industries need updating, there are also entirely new industries that require new curriculums, such as cloud computing or data security. Northern Virginia Community College has been partnering with Amazon Web Services to help fill the gap in qualified workers. They also received a $5 million federal grant to build out their data center operations degree and certificate programs.

These programs are just scratching the surface of how new technologies are shaping our need for skilled workers. As these technologies advance, it is likely that more specialized programs will be needed to meet the training demand.

3. Creating new courses for traditional apprenticeship careers.

A few years ago, an associate’s degree in construction would have been rare—or perhaps even unheard of. Now, with traditional apprenticeship programs in decline, community colleges are stepping up to fill the gap.

At Texas State Technical College, students can now earn a Construction associate’s degree, a step which colleges are hoping will fill a much-needed labor market. Currently, 89% of construction contractors are struggling to find qualified workers. Programs such as the one through Texas State Technical College may lay that fear to rest.

4. Developing short-term programs for rapid labor market growth.

Finally, while two-year programs—or those which can help students transfer into a four-year degree—have the most long-term earning potential, many states are investing in a shorter-term solution with a short-term timeline. These workforce training bootcamps allow students to gain credentials in a matter of weeks rather than months, meaning they can enter the job market more rapidly and get a jump on practical job experience.

This approach has downsides. For one, longer training is more valuable, and workers with certificates they gained in a month are more likely to end up in jobs with high turnover and low growth. Some programs have also faced obstacles, like objections from local trade unions and political opposition.

But the benefits of these programs are also clear: they help fill worker shortages, they give students a taste of a career before a multi-year commitment, and they help workers gain valuable on-the-job experience. It is to be hoped that states will continue to support certificate-holding students in future years, if they return for ongoing career-based education.

Marketing also plays a key role in addressing the skills gap.

As we’ve frequently argued, marketing plays a key role in growing enrollment at community colleges—provided it’s the right kind. Enrolling in a program is a major decision, one with consequences that may unfold over the course of a student’s entire life, impacting the jobs they are qualified for, their standard of living, and their retirement. Many students rightly hesitate to take that step without trustworthy information in hand about their career options. To pull back a step further, many don’t even consider community college because they don’t have any particular career in mind. They first need information that will spark an interest.

At Aperture, we’ve built a marketing platform designed to spark that interest—and then inform students enough to allow them to reach a decision. Here’s how our marketing campaigns frequently play out:

  • We work with community colleges to help them develop a career-based campaign. They can draw on our article library for informative content, edit the content to fit their programs, or write entirely new articles based on our research.
  • The campaign is assembled into both a print magazine and an online microsite. Community colleges can link to the microsite—both the full site and specific articles—through their main site.
  • The print magazine is sent to targeted postal routes, and distributed as hard copies to community college staff. We’ve heard that enrollment and student aid offices like to have the hard copies to hand out. They are also popular among high school guidance counselors.
  • Content from the issue is pulled into social media posts to attract further attention to the deeper content on the microsites.

If you believe your community college could benefit from a campaign like the one we’ve just described, contact us today. We’re happy to show you a demo of our services.