With two-thirds of all jobs requiring postsecondary education and training by the year 2020, community colleges are at the epicenter of a widespread movement to increase access to those “middle-skills jobs.”
Helping to advance the national conversation is Harper College and Dr. Maria Coons, Chief of Staff/Vice President of Institutional Planning and Strategic Alliances.
On Wednesday, Coons was on Capitol Hill to testify before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies. The “Pipeline to the Workforce” panel also included leaders from Microsoft Corp., Associated Builders and Contractors, and the Francis Tuttle Technology Center in Oklahoma City.
“The biggest economic challenge facing our country today is that too many people are in jobs that do not pay them enough to live on,” said U.S. Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-Connecticut), the subcommittee’s ranking member. “Too often it is because we have failed to provide them opportunities to gain the skills and experience to access better jobs and earn family-sustaining wages.”
Coons provided the subcommittee with an overview of Harper’s progress in the areas of career and technical education to award credentials that have labor market value, close the skills gaps and leverage resources to advance workforce initiatives.
She also highlighted Harper’s leadership in the area of apprenticeships through its offerings in the business and professional services sector. Coons said Harper has worked in tandem with the Department of Labor to develop registered apprenticeships that combine job-related instruction with structured on-the-job learning experiences.
Currently, about 100 apprentices are enrolled at Harper (employers pay their tuition and a salary) and 50 companies such as Zurich North America have hired or are in the process of hiring apprentices.
“The employee leaves (Harper) with a credential. It means something when they move from company to company. It’s just like having a degree. So you have the R.A. credential with you, and when the employer sees it, it’s a stamp of quality and rigor,” Coons said.
Representatives on the subcommittee emphasized the importance of taking proven models like Harper’s to scale.
“We need to continue to enact policy that bolsters these successful workforce development pipelines to stay competitive with international competitors and, importantly, to ensure every American has the training they need to get a good job with fair wages,” DeLauro said.