The country is facing a first responder shortage at the same time as major businesses are offering free tuition to their frontline workers. Community colleges can fill the gap.
In the nearly two years since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, a great deal of justified attention has been directed toward two significant groups within the American workforce: first responders (including EMTs, doctors, nurses, and other healthcare workers), and frontline workers (including first responders, but also those with jobs in essential industries, such as post office workers, bus drivers, grocery clerks, and factory line operators).
Both these workforces have been hit significantly by the pandemic. In the aftermath, doctors, nurses, and other first responders are facing severe burnout, while many frontline workers have left their jobs due to poor working conditions.
As a result, an already-looming skills gap in many crucial fields has only grown worse. In the meantime, in a bid to attract and retain employees amid national labor shortages, many major employers, including Amazon, Walmart, and Target, have launched tuition programs for their frontline workers, some of which cover the full cost of college tuition.
This situation creates a unique opportunity for community colleges. Frontline workers have an opportunity to put their education grants toward careers that will benefit them long-term. Meanwhile, community colleges are best equipped to provide the certification and associate degree programs that can prepare frontline workers for in-demand careers after they graduate. Here’s why.
1. Community colleges have already developed programs for the most in-demand careers.
The skills gap refers to a coming shortage of qualified workers to fill a range of jobs in essential industries. This means workers will need training in certain fields, but not every job requires a four year degree. In fact, some of the most in-demand positions require only a certificate or two-year degree to start, with options for further education down the road.
This is especially true for many nursing programs, which also offer technical certificates in programs such as radiography, surgical technology, or mammography. Students who take these programs are well on their way toward stable careers in industries with high demand for labor.
2. Community colleges are well regarded in their communities and have connections to help students succeed.
Community colleges have another advantage over traditional four-year programs, and that is their connection to local employers. This includes the big box stores offering free tuition, many of which have restrictions in place that govern where their employees can go to earn their ongoing education credits. When qualifying an education partner, an employer like Target or Wallmart is much more likely to accept a community college, and even work toward establishing a relationship with them to encourage employees to take advantage of the program.
On the other side, once an employee has finished training, the community college is more likely to have connections with employers to help guide that student into new work placements. This makes it even more beneficial for students, who can hope to have tangible leads toward job opportunities when they graduate.
3. Community colleges offer flexible schedules that accommodate the lives of hourly workers.
The paradox of large employers like Amazon or Target offering to foot the tuition bill for their employees is that those workers still have jobs to do. For a worker who has a job and doesn’t plan to move, community college is an obvious choice.
Just as importantly, community colleges are used to working with students who have busy schedules. They offer a broader range of time slots, including evening and weekend classes, or intensive courses which can be completed in a shorter timeframe.
4. Community colleges have other programs in place to assist students with additional needs.
Finally, while free tuition and a flexible schedule go a huge way toward helping aspiring students access education, they don’t always go all the way. Some students may have additional needs, such as childcare or transportation.
Traditional colleges aren’t built to handle these needs. They operate under the assumption that incoming students are fresh out of highschool, ready to live on campus, and unmarried without kids. By contrast, many community colleges have programs in place to help students who may be struggling, which may be even more important for those who are trying to balance education, a job, and a family. This makes them a better match for frontline workers who are seeking a nontraditional path toward higher education.
Community colleges need to be proactive in reaching prospective students with recent career data that shows the career opportunities in in-demand fields.
The labor market has changed significantly since the pandemic. However, many frontline workers, interested in pursuing new careers, may hold outdated assumptions about what careers provide the best paths toward better lives.
To counteract these false impressions, community colleges need to be proactive in reaching prospective students with information-rich campaigns that deliver the latest reports on job opportunities in their areas. Multichannel marketing strategies provide the best approach.
Aperture Content Marketing provides a platform for community colleges to spread their message. Our campaigns combine direct mail magazines, mobile microsites, and social media posts for a unified marketing message that can reach prospective students no matter where they are. Our clients have access to our content library, which is full of well-researched articles designed to keep students fully informed about career possibilities.
Through years of helping community colleges with their academic marketing, we have seen first hand the results of information-based strategies. If you’re interested in learning how we can help your community college draw attention to its most valuable programs, contact us today.