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.