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Beyond the bachelor’s degree

Photo by Dylan Gillis on Unsplash

Backers of a new ad campaign on non-degree hiring include big companies and the Biden administration. Also, community colleges face new demands in rural job markets, social capital–focused intermediaries seek scale through alumni mentors, and parsing new data on youth apprentices.

The Job
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A New Ad Campaign

Ads began airing nationwide yesterday that urge employers and everyday Americans to “tear up the paper ceiling” and focus less on bachelor’s degrees when it comes to hiring and getting ahead.

The campaign from Opportunity@Work and the Ad Council was announced in June. It focuses on workers who are locked out of higher-paying jobs despite being skilled through alternative routes, including community college, apprenticeships, short-term training, or just learning on the job.

IBM, Walmart, Google, and other corporations are backing the campaign. It also has a thumbs-up from the U.S. Department of Labor, which recently put $380M into apprenticeships and other work-based learning programs.

“Growing new career pathways can’t be a top-down effort,” Labor Secretary Marty Walsh said. “It requires partnership at all levels.”

At a launch event this week in midtown Manhattan, much of the talk was about the need to move away from degree requirements in hiring and to instead focus on skills. Also discussed was the role of social networks in determining who gets access to certain kinds of jobs and how going to college (or not) impacts those networks. Fitting perhaps for an event co-hosted by LinkedIn at its offices in the Empire State Building.

Kenny Nguyen, CEO and co-founder of ThreeSixtyEight, an ad agency, described an employee at Smoothie King who was chatty and remembered all his orders. His connection with the worker was what research on social capital would call a weak tie. But like many such ties, it paid off. Nguyen, who himself left college without graduating, saw the man’s skills and asked him to apply for a job.

“I thought, ‘He would be really good in sales,’” Nguyen said. “And now he does business development for a multimillion-dollar company.”

The ad campaign hopes to get a lot more people to think that way.Elyse Ashburn


Work Shift: As rural job markets ‘rise,’ colleges face new demands Community colleges scramble to keep up amid the shifting geography of job growth across the country.

Paying It Forward

High-profile research shows that economic connectedness—the likelihood that lower-income Americans have high-income friends—has a stronger impact on future incomes than educational quality, family structure, job availability, or a community’s racial composition.

Growing awareness about the importance of social capital to job success has led to calls that colleges be more intentional in helping lower-income students develop networks. Some colleges tap alumni and student support organizations to connect students with career mentors—my alma mater wrote to me this week to ask if I’d mentor undergraduates.

The nonprofit COOP is seeking to bring its social capital–focused program to more college partners. The model is low-cost and replicable, according to Kalani Leifer, COOP’s founder and CEO.

The career accelerator’s 16-week, 200-hour training tracks in digital marketing, data analytics, or tech sales are offered at no cost to low-income and first-generation college graduates. The program can be free largely because alumni “captains” teach the curriculum.

“COOP exists today because of the pay-it-forward mind-set of our alumni,” Leifer says. “Each cohort is led by a team of four cohort captains, near-peer program alumni who serve as coaches, mentors, and guides on top of busy day jobs at local ad agencies and tech companies.”

Captains commit to at least 125 hours of working with a new cohort, after they complete 25-plus hours of leadership training. Many of COOP’s alumni have signed on more than once as captains, says Leifer, with some returning four or five times. That experience can help them advance in their jobs.

“Relationships pull us into meaningful careers,” says Leifer. “As cohort captains, alumni are growing their peer professional networks and advancing their leadership skills.

The program’s cost of delivery is $6,500 per student, roughly equal to the annual maximum award of a federal Pell Grant. COOP typically covers that cost with contributions from employer sponsors and other partners.

“Higher education is under increasing pressure to demonstrate compelling employment outcomes, and we anticipate focused financial aid funding may follow—perhaps even as an incremental bridge year of ‘Pell plus’ support,” Leifer says.

‘A Flywheel of a Network’: Climb Hire’s 200-hour learning tracks for entry-level tech jobs also are free to its students, who are working adults from low-income communities and are not required to hold a college degree. Participants get a $1K stipend when they complete.

Graduates help pay for the program through a financing structure that in some ways resembles an outcomes-based loan. If they land a stable, salaried role, alumni pay $150 per month for four years—a total of $7,200.

In addition, at least 45% of alumni return as fellows, where they help four or five current students. Fellows are both guides and role models, says Nitzan Pelman, Climb Hire’s CEO and founder. She says fellows are the main reason 80% of the program’s participants land good jobs.

“It’s a leadership opportunity, too. So companies love it,” Pelman says of the role fellows play. “We’re really creating a flywheel of a network.”

Pelman shared a message from a participant who had struggled in school. The student thought their “future would be limited to retail and physical labor jobs” until arriving at Climb Hire. “Everyone has their own pace for success, and though it may be a tough and potentially very long road ahead, I refuse to let my failures define me.”

Parsing Numbers on Youth Apprentices

Data about young adults who participate in the federal registered apprenticeship system are too limited to make conclusive observations about how youth apprenticeships are working.

That’s the bottom line from a new take by Taylor White, a senior policy adviser for K-12 education and workforce with New America’s Center on Education & Labor.

Registered apprenticeships are rarely built to serve young adults. But a distinct program model for youth apprenticeship has emerged in recent years, with distributed instruction across high schools, colleges, and employers. Many of these programs are not part of the registered apprenticeship system, writes White, who also is the national director of the Partnership to Advance Youth Apprenticeship.

The number of U.S. apprentices between the ages of 16 and 24 more than doubled in the decade before 2020, hitting 40K that year, according to a recent analysis of federal data by JFF’s Center for Apprenticeship & Work-Based Learning. Work Shift covered that report, which found large race and gender participation gaps in the youth apprenticeship system, as well as lagging wages for women, Black, and Latino completers.

However, youth apprenticeship is not defined at the federal level, says White. So while federal data can provide information about young people who are in the registered system, it doesn’t shed light on youth apprenticeship programs.

Click over to Work Shift to read White’s full analysis.

Open Tabs

Enrollment Crisis

Unfavorable demographics and shifting employment qualifications in the broader economy may negatively affect long-term enrollment numbers at U.S. colleges, according to Fitch Ratings. “Enrollment growth is further complicated by inflation, a strong labor market, and employer initiatives to attract and retain workers, including on-the-job training, certification programs, or relaxation of college degree requirements.”

Black Students

Enrollment of Black students at community colleges declined by 44% in the decade prior to 2020 and dipped 18% from fall 2019 to fall 2021, according to a new report from the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies. The report also said graduation rates for Black community college students lag behind their peers’. Likewise, Black graduates have significantly smaller incomes than their counterparts—an average of $20K less per year for Black households with an associate degree holder.

Noncredit Programs

The federal government in July rejected a proposal to start collecting data on student enrollments in noncredit programs, citing the potential administrative burden, Lee Gardner reports for The Chronicle of Higher Education. Without data, he reports, colleges operate blind on which workforce credentials are successful and connect best with the regional workforce, while students have no idea about program results.

Manufacturing Skills

The manufacturing industry is posting gains in efficiency, productivity, and sustainability, but the workforce is struggling to keep up with the skills necessary to thrive in the industry, according to new research from Autodesk and the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. The study identifies future workflows and skills needed for mechanical engineers, manufacturing engineers, and machinists.

Tech Hiring

Gen Z has doubts about being able to break into tech jobs, with 39% of 18- to 24-year-olds saying they didn’t have, or didn’t know how to get, the right qualifications to pursue a role in tech, according to a survey conducted by Wiley Edge. In a companion survey of employers, 39% said they struggle to recruit entry-level talent, while 45% said they are more likely to hire—or exclusively hire—graduates from top-ranked universities.

Salesforce rolled out a workforce-training partner program it says will help prepare 20K job seekers for roles using Salesforce software and tools. The new effort seeks to enable roughly 500 nonprofit, higher education, and workforce-development organizations to use the company’s curriculum and content. Salesforce also said 25 new employer partners have agreed to hire graduates of its free training program.

Childcare Education

StraighterLine has acquired the ChildCare Education Institute, an online training provider that served 87K early childhood education teachers and staff members last year. StraighterLine courses lack accreditation and instead rely on credit recommendations from the American Council on Education. The nation’s childcare programs face severe staffing shortages amid several market failures.

A while back I wrote about an unusual mentoring opportunity from American Express, which matches cardholders with underserved high school students. Are you a career mentor? Thanks for reading. —@paulfain

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