Even though the community college is an admirable and respectable institution, people rarely know how much work must be put into its effective work and programs. Multiple actions, initiatives, and strategies must occur in the background for everything to flow and for the community college to serve the community and accomplish the necessary results.
It is not the responsibility of a small team of people but a complex collaboration of people and professionals from various backgrounds. Each of them has to do their part in order for students to get the knowledge and skills they deserve and to close the middle-skills gap.
The problems occur when these partnerships are inefficient, not working well toward creating relevant courses, and not resulting in decent employment for graduates. Sadly, that has been the case in recent years, especially after the pandemic.
Higher Education No Longer Supreme In Securing Middle-Skills Jobs
Young people no longer perceive community colleges the same way they did decades ago when these institutions provided a path toward middle-skills careers and fairly paid jobs. Instead of finding positions that match their degrees and abilities, many graduates had to move back with their parents and put their professional lives on hold.
For instance, almost half of 2020 college grads struggled to find work after completing their studies, as the pandemic disrupted the market. But what problems exactly plague today’s graduates, and what does it have to do with a lack of synchronization between community colleges and employers?
How Challenging Is It for Today’s Graduates To Find Work After Community Colleges
According to a recent survey, only 46 percent of community college graduates work in their field of study. Moreover, 47 percent doubt they will find a well-paying job in their industry or don’t believe it at all.
But how is it that many fresh graduates, and even those who finished in the past three years, have a hard time finding work when there are two job openings for every unemployed American? After the pandemic wreaked havoc on the U.S. job market, it was not so surprising that young people couldn’t pick their careers off the ground.
After all, the competition for entry-level jobs was raging, as graduates had to compete against those laid off during the COVID-19 crisis. For an extended time, multiple generations chased junior positions, making finding employment a challenge for everyone.
However, the job market has become more stable in the past two years, making more jobs available than unemployed people. Therefore, fresh graduates should no longer struggle with finding work that matches their competencies, especially since businesses aim to close the middle-skills gap.
Yet, even those with work experience who met 80 percent of the job requirements for the positions they applied for didn’t get hired. That means that the class of 2023 will likely encounter similar problems as their predecessors, despite there being more than enough jobs for everyone.
Challenges Instead Of Enjoying An Abundant Job Market
What obstacles will these graduates face when they start looking for jobs? Business.com found that only five percent of all job applications they received were met with interest from employers.
The rate is just as rigid for entry-level jobs, including when candidates meet 90 percent of job criteria. Finally, only two percent of job applications led to interviews, and none resulted in job offers.
Employers are also more interested in job applicants who can work on-site than those who can only work remotely. However, most middle-skills jobs require handling specific equipment or tools and being physically present, which is why this should come as no surprise.
But that is still insufficient to explain why many candidates don’t get a chance and take years to find a job that aligns with their capabilities and expectations. Many reasons exist for the current situation, including the high volume of job applications companies receive and misleading job listings that target entry-level workers but require mid-level professionals.
Still, these problems are much easier to tackle than employers’ poor partnership with community colleges. That issue started decades ago, but the aftermaths of a lack of transparent communication have accumulated.
As a result, educators are in the dark about employers’ needs and expectations, while businesses doubt that community colleges can produce the talents they require. Here’s how it came to that.
What Led To A Systemic Lack Of Synchronization, And What Did It Cause?
The Partnership Imperative report explored the relationship between employers and community colleges and found that it suffers from a fundamental dissonance. Although the survey found that 84 percent of businesses hire graduates of U.S. community colleges, they don’t really understand the capabilities of the education institutions.
Most provide highly uniform answers when inquired about assessing the performance of community colleges across eight different attributes. But neither employers nor community colleges had certain information about their workers and students.
For instance, the latter didn’t know what percentage were working learners, which is crucial data for designing and providing relevant curriculum. Moreover, community colleges had various misconceptions and misunderstandings about employers’ attitudes toward different issues, such as paying interns or sharing information about market requirements and trends.
But even more important is that they did not understand how employers perceived their performance. Community college leaders believed employers had a much better perception of their accomplishments in critical areas, such as developing training standards, engaging businesses, and teaching technical skills.
However, employers didn’t rate these points highly. Thus, community colleges don’t have a clear idea of what happens with their students after graduation, nor what they expect from the world of work.
Young people who live in more competitive locations want higher salaries, as these places have higher living costs and can provide opportunities that allow them to prosper. Therefore, educators also don’t fully understand what skills their students seek and how that compares to where they live. That makes it impossible to meet the competitiveness definition.
Vicious Cycle Impacting The Job Market And Economy
Students can’t know what jobs are in demand locally, how to prepare for them, and what it takes to perform well in those roles. On the other hand, educators can’t develop curricula matching local employers’ needs and prepare students for jobs available where they live.
Moreover, that way, businesses can hardly make steady growth plans and be confident in their future initiatives and requirements. As a result, the local skill supply-demand mismatch turns into a tricky cycle nationwide.
Employers complain that they can’t find talents that align with their business needs and visions, forcing them to resort to outsourcing, automation, contingent workers, and offshoring, hoping to close their skill gap. Meanwhile, students and young people start to lose faith in accessible higher education and doubt that community colleges are a safe way to middle-skills jobs.
That leads them to seek alternative paths, often choosing jobs that offer limited professional prospects. On the flip side, educators realize their curriculum might be inadequate and insufficient to develop workforce-ready talents and respond to employers’ needs.
A sense of discouragement becomes unavoidable as local employers show less and less interest in engaging with them and hiring community college graduates. Thus, policymakers find these workforce development efforts frustrating and insufficient to drive employment and attract future investment.
Instead of encouraging educators and employers to sit together and discuss how to tackle the problem, they choose to prioritize training programs centered around what might only be a fad, such as fintech and biotech. In the process, the actual local demand in industries like healthcare and construction remains neglected.
The Awareness Of Both Parties Still Not Enough To Move The Needle
However, The Partnership Imperative report found that both parties, employers and educators, are aware that the current system has multiple faults preventing progress and lasting solutions. Because of that, most community colleges admitted the talents they produce don’t fully match the needs and gaps of the local market.
Employers agreed that the talent supply doesn’t really meet the demand. Many also said that community colleges aren’t producing work-ready graduates their companies need.
But years of poor collaboration have led to these two parties having different perceptions of each other’s input and performance. For instance, 53 percent of employers believe they deploy effective technology to facilitate contact with community colleges, while only 30 percent of educators agree.
Moreover, 56 percent of business leaders say they work with community colleges to establish policies, recruiting calendars, hiring best practices, and standard procedures, but only 21 percent of educators said the same. Educators are also not happy with employers’ engagement in co-designing marketing campaigns and committing to hiring targets for community college graduates.
Their collaboration hasn’t progressed significantly in recent years, leading to a lack of good curricula and employment options for students. That also impacts the overall national economy and competitiveness.
But the only way to move forward is to turn awareness about the problem into practical solutions and a partnership. Neither employers nor community colleges can continue at the same pace, as that affects career prospects for future students and makes their communication even more challenging to get off the ground.
Taking action is critical, as that’s the only way to turn things around and create adequate curricula and programs. That would put employers’ and educators’ expectations on the same page and encourage them to work toward the same goals.