As artificial intelligence continues to fill factory positions typically held by high school graduates, some community colleges are innovating to meet the new need for worker “retraining” programs.
According to an analysis by Ball State University, automation in American manufacturing has cut nine of every ten jobs in the private sector since 2000. Though many jobs in manufacturing still exist that cannot be performed by machines, they now require workers with more training than a traditional high school diploma. In other words, a mismatch exists between current workforce skills and the demands of 21st-century manufacturing jobs that did not exist before the turn of the century.
Without a clear educational path to reclaiming their displaced jobs, middle-age to older workers often choose not to re-enter the workforce or re-enroll in school, preferring instead to collect unemployment checks.
Some local community colleges, notably Des Moines Area Community College, are changing to meet this growing cohort of 40 and older workers. These community colleges have begun “demand-driven training” - or educating workers to fill specific job openings - to ensure that trainees are guaranteed a job after the program’s end.
The program’s organizers look at the job needs in the surrounding communities and tailor training based off of those openings. Workers can clearly see the link between what they are learning as students and what they will be doing after they exit the program - some even begin work while completing the final part of their training.
Additionally, the training programs are extremely affordable, ranging from as little as $89 to as much as $1,000.
Most importantly, the completion rate at Des Moines Area Community College’s worker retraining program is 85 percent. In contrast, currently, only 39 percent of community college students nationwide graduate in six years or less.
Between now and 2024, according to Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce, the nation will have 16 million new openings for jobs requiring a high-school diploma plus additional training similar to what Des Moines Community College provides. Forty percent of these jobs pay more than $55,000 per year, and 14 percent pay more than $80,000.
Des Moines Area Community College provides a viable model of matching training to local jobs, potentially providing a guide for colleges in manufacturing towns with open jobs but no takers.
Kate Hardiman is pursuing a master's in education from Notre Dame University and teaches English and religion at a high school in Chicago.