Meeting the Workforce Needs of Today & Tomorrow: Current Efforts & Federal Opportunities


Our country is currently experiencing a workforce shortage caused by a collision of multiple factors: retiring baby boomers leave open jobs and also create the increasing need for senior focused medical care; declining birth rates and a standstill on immigration policy prevent an increase in the workforce; and new technologies and developing industries, supported by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and the Chips and Science Act, require re-skilling across the workforce. Further, as traditional bachelor’s, and even associate’s degrees, feel increasingly out of reach financially, many students—particularly adult learners—are looking for a wider variety of options to increase their earnings and shift their careers. Community colleges have responded by adapting and offering a growing number of credentials that can be attained with short-term postsecondary programs.

The success stories highlighting these options that have been shared during Community College Month showcase the many ways community colleges are stepping up to support these students alongside those looking to follow the associates, and possibly transfer, pathways.

States need certified nursing assistants, phlebotomists, EKG technicians, EMTs, and pharmacy technicians to meet growing demands in the healthcare field. In the computer technology field, Google IT and Amazon Web Services certificate holders, computer software programmers, and cybersecurity support specialists are all in high demand. And hands-on craft and trades jobs in fields such as construction, transportation, and automative repair are also needed. As a result, States are doing what they can to support the various postsecondary pathways with a growing number of college promise programs built on the federal Pell Grant and additional programs to supplement federal investments in workforce development.

The Illinois Community College Board funds a program called “Workforce Equity Initiative” that provides grants to cover tuition and fees as well as a $1000 stipend to put toward expenses such as transportation and child care to help individuals in underserved communities access high-demand, high-pay jobs. The programs participating must guarantee a wage at least 30% above the living wage. Participants must meet eligibility requirements, including by living in specific zip codes. Of those enrolled, 65% have completed their credential and 68% of those completers are currently employed. To hear from a few Oakton College students now in the workforce, check out this video.

The Massachusetts Association of Community Colleges, in collaboration with the state’s Executive Office of Education, has been distributing $15 million in one-time funding for workforce development in in-demand fields. The Workforce Education and Training Fund (ETF) will serve approximately 3,200 students from June of 2022 through June of 2024. ETF is currently the only source of dedicated funding for students who are pursuing non-credit or workforce training for high demand jobs.

These programs are creating an impact for the students they’re able to serve, but their reach is limited and capped by each individual state’s ability to fund it. The federal government could serve as a catalyst for this type of state investment to help address the national workforce shortages. Congress has two opportunities – in 2024 – to do just that.

Workforce Pell – Community colleges have long advocated for the passage of short-term or workforce Pell, which would allow students in training programs that are shorter than one semester access to Pell dollars. These programs help fill the high-demand jobs previously discussed but are not currently eligible for the Pell Grant unless they are extended to at least one semester in length. Passing one of the numerous bipartisan bills currently progressing through the House and Senate—or a compromise thereof—would enable states to combine their workforce Pell funds with existing programs, mirroring how many states utilize Pell dollars for Promise Programs in associate's degree pathways.

Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act Reauthorization (WIOA) – Congress is currently considering reauthorization the federal workforce bill, currently known as WIOA. Last reauthorized in 2014, this law oversees a wide variety of workforce policies, including Individual Training Account funding and the eligibility requirements for these funds. As Congress considers this reauthorization, it has the opportunity to increase the funding for ITAs and streamline the relationship between local workforce board and community colleges that can offer the reskilling and upskilling WIOA participants need, bringing access to a greater number of individuals for these programs.

These opportunities for Congress to invest in workforce development are not either/or. They must be both/and. Investing in Workforce Pell provides a pathway to all who qualify based on income, given that WIOA programs have additional requirements and not everyone qualifies. Growing the investment in WIOA funds provides access to those who enter the workforce training program through job centers rather than exploring higher education.

As we conclude Community College Month, our need to grow our workforce and to support students at all points in their educational and career journeys is clear. Community colleges are “cultivating the skills of the future” but need states and the federal government to be active partners in this endeavor. The federal government must invest in the pathways that lead Americans to these high-demand fields that in many cases are not just a job, but the next step on a career path that will continue to grow and develop.

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ACCT Now is the go-to resource for issues affecting community colleges. In addition to reporting and research, you’ll have access to of-the-moment legislative updates. We’ve also included articles, reports, and research from outside sources that benefit the ACCT community.

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