The Great Jobs Reshuffle and the Demise of the College Degree Hiring Bias

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Covid-19 shocked an already-changing U.S. job market, creating “the great American jobs reshuffle,” a reordering that is fast-tracking skills-based hiring – in which employers evaluate job readiness based on current skills and abilities rather than four-year degrees.

Employers including Google, Apple, IBM, and Bank of America use skills-based hiring, an approach that hastens the downfall of the college degree as the gateway credential for identifying would-be employees. Skills-based hiring also offers an opportunity to create new K-12 career-pathways programs that can be alternatives to the college-degree hiring approach. Created by K-12 stakeholders and local civic entrepreneurs, these programs prepare young people for skills-based hiring by connecting students with employers and work.

They also foster opportunity pluralism, forming the basis for a new youth opportunity agenda.

This agenda comprises what students know (knowledge) and whom they know (relationships).  

The goal is to ensure that every American – especially K–12 students, and regardless of background or current condition – has multiple pathways to acquiring the knowledge and networks needed for jobs and careers.

This agenda differs from old-style vocational education, which was often based on racial, ethnic, and social-class biases that placed students into tracks with defined occupational destinations.

In short, Knowledge + Networks = Opportunity.

Five features guide program design.

First, credentials pay. These programs offer a sequenced academic curriculum and requirements aligned with labor-market needs, with a recognized career credential awarded to participants to assure a decent income. Kenzie Academy, an operating division of Southern New Hampshire University, is a technology and apprenticeship program for young people, including high school graduates and formerly incarcerated individuals. It offers credentialed online programs in software engineering and UX Design and an apprenticeship with Kenzie Studio, its consulting arm. An income-share agreement delays tuition payment until graduates have secured a job paying at least $40,000.

Second, a civic compact. Written agreements describe roles and responsibilities, including a program budget, with management and governance structures allowing access to influential individuals needed for program success. The New Orleans civic partnership YouthForce NOLA offers career exposure and work experience, “soft”-skills training, student coaching, and paid internships for seniors – with 90 hours of work in pathways that include biology and health sciences, digital media and IT, and architecture and water management. This civic collaborative has 17 funders, 12 steering-committee members, and 11 civic leaders as board members.

Third, work exposure and experience.  Programs begin no later than middle school, with visiting speakers and field trips. High school programs involve work placement, including internships, with work-based learning integrated with classroom instruction. Cristo Rey, a network of 35 Catholic high schools in 22 states, integrates four years of academics with work through its Corporate Work Study Program. Its placement service assigns students five days a month to entry-level jobs with over 3,400 partners. Students – 40 percent non-Catholic, 98 percent minority – earn 60 percent of tuition through employment, with 30 percent from philanthropy and 10 percent a family contribution of around $1,000.

Fourth, multiple organizations. Partners include employers and trade associations who help define the skills and competencies that participants need for a certificate and employment, provide paid internships and apprenticeships, and assess workforce readiness. Other organizations assist with activities like work-placement and social services for participants and families, including community foundations, community colleges, chambers of commerce, private-industry councils, the Salvation Army, and United Way.

Fifth, supporting policies. Local, state, and federal policies and directives create a framework for program development – for example, a policy creating incentives for K-12, postsecondary institutions, labor, and workforce groups to integrate their separate funding encourages stable financial support.

These programs offer faster and cheaper pathways to jobs and careers than other traditional education settings. In addition to preparing young people for the demands of the labor market, the programs also help them cultivate an occupational identity and vocational self. Choosing an occupation and developing a broader vocational sense of one’s values, abilities, and personality is an important foundation for adult success, responsible citizenship, and continual growth and development.

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