CSG Midwest
Ask employers what their biggest challenges are, and one of the first responses will often be the difficulty in filling jobs with qualified workers. Ask policymakers what the biggest challenges facing their state’s economy are, and it won’t be long before they mention the need to build a trained workforce — one that can fill good-paying jobs and enable individual economic mobility.
 
This policy challenge is particularly acute in regard to middle-skill jobs — those requiring more than a high school diploma, such as an associate’s degree, certificate or other postsecondary credential, but not necessarily a bachelor’s degree. Last year, in fact, none of the 10 fastest-growing occupations required bachelor’s degrees, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Workers could instead qualify for these jobs through such means as skills certificates, on-the-job training or apprenticeships.
 
In an effort to match state policy with these labor-market realities, new legislation is being introduced and innovative programs are being implemented across the Midwest that target middle-skill jobs and workers.
 
 
 

Steve Brophy, vice president of government affairs for Dollar General, developed a program in California to address unemployment among veterans and brought it to Tennessee when he made the move from the west coast.  While attempting to fill vacant positions, he discovered Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve, a national program supporting states' investment in employment opportunities for active duty military and veterans.  The Paychecks for Patriots program grew and launched in 2012 to offer an opportunity for veterans to attend local job fairs across Tennessee with a chance for on-the-spot hiring.

Veterans are enrolling in postsecondary education institutions in large numbers, most of them with extensive occupational experience. Many colleges use Prior Learning Assessments to award academic credit when the knowledge and skills an individual has gained outside the classroom--including employment, military training and service, civic activities, and volunteer service--can be matched to college-level coursework. Veterans who earn credit for general courses are able to complete their degrees in a shorter period of time, reducing...

Insourcing is a practice that reverses the trend of multinational corporations operating overseas. Businesses increasingly are choosing to relocate to the United States, and in some cases, foreign-owned corporations are employing American workers for the first time. Insourcing saves and creates jobs, and state policy can play a pivotal role in affecting businesses’ decisions to locate stateside.

The Solar Foundation, an independent nonprofit with a mission to increase understating of solar energy, recently published its annual National Solar Jobs Census 2014 report.  The report found the U.S. solar industry created jobs at a rate nearly 20 times higher than the average employment growth for a second consecutive year.

CSG Director of Education Policy Pam Goins outlines the top five issues in workforce development policy for 2015, including job driven-training, reducing the skills gap through the use of career pathways, alignment of education and workforce development systems, services for the hard-to-employ, and veterans' employment.

Jennifer Burnett, Program Manager for Fiscal and Economic Development Policy, outlines the top five issues in fiscal and economic development policy for 2015,  including job creations strategies, state innovations in health care spending, public pension solvency, and federal funding uncertainty. 

Registered apprenticeship programs combine structured learning with on-the-job training and upon completion, participants receive an industry issued, nationally recognized credential that certifies occupational proficiency. Program duration ranges from one to six years with a majority lasting four years.

The U.S. Department of Labor is now accepting applications from public and private partnerships to receive one of approximately 25 grants to expand registered apprenticeship programs in high-skilled, high-growth industries like healthcare, biotechnology, information technology and advanced manufacturing. The grants will be worth $2.5 million to $5 million each with a total of $100 million awarded.

What if a middle-skills job—one that requires more education than a high school diploma but less than a four-year degree—could be a ticket to the middle class? It’s possible, experts say, but not enough state policymakers are taking the steps to help ensure the middle can grow. It’s going to take good data, innovative programs and the will to work together, experts say, but growing the middle class can be done.

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