Reskilling for the Pandemic Recession and Recovery

ACCT’s newly released report examines how community colleges are adapting to prepare students for career changes brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Once the COVID-19 pandemic began to take hold in the United States, unemployment quickly rose from 3.8% in February to 13% in May. While the economic downturn has been widespread, certain groups of Americans have experienced disproportionately high job losses. Women, Black and Hispanic individuals and people without a postsecondary credential have been most effected. ACCT’s most recent brief, “Reskilling for the Pandemic Recession and Recovery,” examines the community college response to the COVID-19 pandemic through reskilling. 

Layoffs have been concentrated in service industries such as tourism, hospitality, and restaurants. Jobs in these industries are among the least likely to allow for working from home and are susceptible to replacement from automation. While unemployment benefits serve as a stopgap measure between jobs, they aren’t a long-term solution. In order to prepare out-of-work individuals for prolonged, stable employment, broad reskilling efforts are necessary. 

Although pandemic impacts a number of industries, the unique public health and economic needs of the pandemic, our analysis of community college strategies focuses on how community colleges are training students for professions in essential industries and the health care sector. To illustrate these efforts, the brief includes two profiles of workforce training programs: 1) Futures for Frontliners, a G.I. Bill-like program for essential workers in Michigan; and 2) health care training programs at Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. 

Michigan: Free College for Essential Workers 

Shortly after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer announced plans for a new program designed to provide tuition-free pathways to essential workers who do not hold college degrees. Called Futures for Frontliners, the program provides financial aid to adults who work in a wide range of coronavirus frontline industries from health care workers to grocery store clerks, based on the governor’s declaration of essential services. This program is like the federal government’s G.I. Bill, educational support for veterans, but at the state level. 

Funding for the program is provided by the Governor’s Education Emergency Relief Fund (GEERF), which is part of the federal CARES Act. Students in the program will be able to participate in courses of study related to their current professions or to pursue a new career path. Russ Kavalhuna, president of Henry Ford College, located a couple miles from downtown Detroit, anticipates students will be interested in programs related to local, in-demand industries such as automotive technology, energy, supply chain management, robotics, and manufacturing. 

Kirkwood Community College, Iowa: Meeting Health Care Labor Needs

Community college health care programs are leaders in training essential workers to treat people during the pandemic. Nationally, a challenge for these programs has been figuring out how to offer courses that require hands-on training and in-person clinicals, while maintaining social distancing and protecting the health and safety of participating students and faculty. Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, has been a leader in quickly adapting their programs to meet both students’ needs and the needs of local health care employers. 

While the transition to virtual and partially virtual instruction presented a variety of challenges, one of the largest was figuring out how to replace the benefit of learning with living patients. Kirkwood makes use of high-fidelity simulations, or mannequins with features as close to human anatomy as possible. These mannequins have, for example, variable heart rates and chests that breathe. While some students were initially resistant to these changes, and the need for increased personal protective equipment, among other changes, they have largely grown accustom to Kirkland’s new normal. 

For more information, check out the full report on ACCT’s website. 

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