Alternative Pathways to Careers

College has been seen as a next step default among high school graduates, and while they serve a role for some students, there are other ways to achieve economic mobility without having to earn a 4-year degree.

“New Collar” Workforce: No Degree Required

No longer is academic pedigree the driving force for employment; it is ability and skills.  Today’s jobs are changing, due to Artificial Intelligence, causing an increased demand for skilled workers. Facing a shortfall of over 2 million skilled workers, companies have had to redefine what skill set is needed for “new-collar workers.”  These individuals have pursued nontraditional education paths to develop their technical and soft skills necessary to work in technology jobs. New collar workers do not have a four-year degree and are trained through:

  1. Trade Schools-Technical, career, or vocational schools that prepare a student to enter a particular career directly after completing training. It usually takes 1 to 2 years to complete the certification process.
  2. Coding Bootcamps-Designing/building websites and apps, short-term intensive training programs usually taking less than 4 months to complete the certification process.
  3. Certificate Programs– Educational modules learned through online platforms that allow you to take the courses you are interested in earning digital badges once the module is completed.
  4. Community Colleges-Local public school that offers career training. One-to-two-year programs with an Associates Degree or Certificate upon completion.
  5. High School Technical Programs-Students can study career and technical education programs, along with their core coursework.

Hiring for new collar workers will require a strategy of looking beyond the resume. Hiring managers will need to seek potential over experience and take into consideration the individual’s ability to learn and process new information, technical aptitude, initiative, a growth mindset, and problem-solving.

Old Ideas: Solving New Problems

Many trades in medieval times were essential to the daily welfare of the community. This idea still holds true today. Apprenticeships are being utilized to help bridge the gap between education and employment without a 4-year degree.

Apprenticeships teach the required skills for a specific, highly skilled technical job. The apprentice is a full-time, paid employee who participates in both on-the-job-training and classroom learning while being mentored. Apprenticeships differ from internships in that an intern works in a more generalized position to gain knowledge in a specific industry. Additionally, internships are usually completed in a short period of time, for example, a summer and can be unpaid or part-time. They are a great way to test drive a job or industry before making a career choice.

For those individuals who are ready to begin their career in a highly-skilled technical trade, an apprenticeship program offers a promising pathway to well-paying jobs with the additional benefits:

  • Wages for an apprenticeship start at a portion of the total salary and increases as skills are mastered.
  • Apprenticeships are a debt-free way to earn college credit and usually take 1-6 years to complete.
  • Allows the student to begin their career right away instead of taking 3-4 years to earn a college degree before entering the workforce.
  • Apprentices receive certification from working in their trade and are typically offered a full-time position within the organization or company they did their apprenticeship.

The Evolving Apprenticeships: Helping to Solve the Skills Gap

Since 2013, apprenticeships have grown by 56%, while nationwide there are over 585,000 apprentices currently in the system with over 23,400 registered apprenticeship programs across the nation. The bulk of apprenticeships in the U.S. are in skilled trades but, the model has been adapted to include many diverse occupations and industries. With 1.3 million tech jobs going unfilled today, opportunities exist to equip an individual with interpersonal and technical skills employers need today and prepare them for lifelong learning and success.

The following are some of the best apprenticeship programs being offered today:

  • CyberDefenses
  • IBM
  • LaunchCode
  • Mercedes Benz
  • Microsoft Leap
  • Walgreens
  • Woz Enterprise

Companies and Career Seekers: Creating New Opportunities

Apprentice Programs across the country have helped companies build a talent pipeline of highly skilled, diverse individuals. In 2017, Aon launched its apprenticeship program with the Chicago Apprentice Network and has committed to investing $30 million dollars in expanding the program across the U.S. They will be partnering with JP Morgan, The Hartford, and Zurich Insurance in creating 10,000 apprenticeships nationwide by 2030. In addition, IBM is investing $1 billion dollars on AI focused training for the U.S. workforce over the next 10 years. As part of that initiative, IBM will be creating 500 apprenticeships to train workers who do not have a college degree, with technology skills to fill AI jobs within the company. Companies that have apprenticeship programs have gained the following outcomes:

  • Raised sponsoring companies’ productivity levels.
  • Developed a highly competitive workforce.
  • Reduced employee turnover.
  • Help to address critical or expected skilled labor shortages.

With the creation and utilization of these alternative pathways, we can fill the skill-specific shortage of diverse workers. They also address the rapid technological changes and strengthen our communities and businesses with a more inclusive workforce while providing individuals with a pathway to high-income careers.

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