Education Pipeline

K12, College, and the Workforce: Collaborating to Prepare for Jobs of the Future


In 2012, The National Conference of State Legislatures formed a new public/private partnership to examine the role of state policymakers in job creation and innovation. A key goal of the Partnership on Jobs and Innovation is to improve the dialogue among state legislators, business representatives and other organizations interested in state policy decisions. This brief on workforce development initiatives is one in a series on state policy issues related to job creation and innovation.

Significant Need for Purposeful Workforce Development

Slow recovery from the Great Recession has underscored the shift from an industrial-based economy to a knowledge-based economy. Often there is a lack of skilled, educated workers to fill an increasing number of available jobs. Yet, filling these new jobs would bring an increased return on investment to state economies, as those jobs usually require a high level of skill and therefore pay well, generating higher revenues for states. A person with a college degree earns about twice as much — $25,000 extra annually — than someone with only a high school diploma. That translates into an extra $1 million in earnings over a lifetime.

low, middle, high jobsJobs are increasingly requiring some form of postsecondary education and, according to research from the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce finding that by 2020, 65 percent will require education or training beyond high school. While many of these jobs will require at least a bachelor’s degree (35 percent), an almost equal amount will require only some college, a certificate, or an associate’s degree (30 percent). At the current rate of college completion, however, the nation will fall short of that by 5 million degrees. 

Percent of Jobs Requiring Postsecondary Education (certificate and above) by 2020

Percent of Jobs Requiring Postsecondary Education (certificate and above) by 2020

Past workforce development initiatives focused on job search and placement need to mirror the shifting economy and focus on longer term improvements to education and training for high-skilled jobs. In fact, according to the McKinsey Global Institute, by 2020 the country could lack  up to 1.5 million people needed with middle to high skills  and have 6 million low skilled, likely unemployed, workers.

Percent Working Age Population (25-64) with Associates Degree or Higher in 2011 and Percent of Jobs Requiring Postsecondary Education by 2020 (certificate or above)

Percent Working Age Population (25-64) with Associates Degree or Higher in 2011 and Percent of Jobs Requiring Postsecondary Education by 2020 (certificate or above)

This brief highlights various state and industry led workforce development initiatives. All approach workforce development in different ways and target various populations. They range from aligning K12 and postsecondary education to workforce needs, to alternative ways of delivering basic skills, to re-training the underemployed and unemployed, to training specific skills for specific industries. All the initiatives, however, are models of collaboration among several state agencies and business partners to develop workers with the skills needed to continue to grow businesses and state economies.

Re-Envisioning Systems of Education, Basic-Skills & Workforce Training

Washington I-BEST

In 2005, Washington’s State Board for Community and Technical Colleges (SBCTC) found that only 4 percent to 6 percent of adult students in basic skills classes ultimately went on to enroll in college-level courses. Additionally, they found a “tipping point” where students who completed one year of college-level courses and earned a degree or certificate markedly increased their earnings within five-years, compared to other adult basic education students.  In response to these findings, SBCTC created the Integrated Basic Education and Skills Training (I-BEST) program to increase the rate of students reaching this tipping point of advancing to college-level courses and completing a postsecondary credential. 

I-BEST moves students quickly through the basic skills courses by combining them with college-level technical education courses, allowing students to immediately start earning credits toward a credential. Programs are designed with a specific sequence of courses, leading directly to a degree or certificate in high-demand jobs. When developing I-BEST programs, local labor market needs were analyzed along with potential wages for students who complete. Eighty-eight percent of all I-BEST programs are in the fields of health care, education, manufacturing and business currently. There are more than 150 programs throughout Washington’s 34 community and technical colleges.

Basic skills instructors and technical education faculty develop and teach I-BEST courses collaboratively and are required to be in class together at least 50 percent of the instructional time. In this way courses combine traditional basic skills with college level concepts, allowing students to apply their learning to the professional/technical education immediately. For example, an I-BEST course in business technology integrates basic skills and professional education by having students create a business portfolio. Basic writing skills and word processing skills are integrated to write a proposal, and basic math skills and spreadsheet skills are integrated to develop a budget.

Approximately 3,000 students a year enroll in I-BEST programs, and a large portion are undereducated and from the low-skill workforce. Sixty-two percent are female, 41 percent are students of color, and 21 percent speak English as a second language. Additionally, almost half the students (47 percent) have at least one child. 

A cohort of I-BEST students was evaluated over four years to determine their progress toward meeting the program’s goal of taking students to the “tipping point.” Twenty-four percent of students completed one year of college level courses and earned a credential, while 12 percent made no progress. Compared to traditional basic skills students, I-BEST students were three times more likely to earn college credits and nine times more likely to complete a credential. I-BEST students also reported an average of $2,300 more in earnings annually. 

The I-BEST program has become a nationally recognized success for aligning basic skills education with workforce needs. Through support from private foundations, SBCTC has provided technical assistance to several other states looking into developing similar programs.

Michigan No Worker Left Behind

The major economic downturn in Michigan during the recession left hundreds of thousands of workers unemployed, with many losing long-held, well-paying jobs. Research by the Michigan Commission on Higher Education & Economic Growth concluded that the state’s future competitiveness required a doubling of the number of workers with a postsecondary degree or credential to keep pace with a labor market that now required different skills. In 2007, Governor Granholm announced the No Worker Left Behind (NWLB) initiative with the goal of reaching 100,000 participants within three years. With the support from federal Workforce Investment Act funds, the program provides low-wage, underemployed and unemployed workers with $5,000 a year, for up to two years, to pay for tuition, fees and other educational expenses at community colleges or other educational institutions.

A key aspect of NWLB is that the skills and credentials being funded align with business demands. More than 40 Michigan Skills Alliances helped build a strong industry partnership around the state, relaying the needs of employers.  The program changed Michigan’s workforce development strategy by focusing resources on helping workers obtain new skills and credentials aligned with workforce need. It helped move the state away from short-term job search and placement services, toward longer-term investment in training and obtaining credentials. In 2009, Michigan’s Department of Energy, Labor, and Economic Growth reported that 75 percent of those who had completed the program had retained or obtained a job. And by 2010, the three year mark, the program had enrolled 148,808 participates, outpacing the state’s goals.

Oregon Career Pathways Initiative

Launched in 2004 with five colleges, and now expanded to all 17 community colleges in the state, the Oregon Career Pathways Initiative seeks to increase the number of Oregonians with certificates or associate’s degrees and equip them with the skills to fill the middle-skill job demand in the state. The program also aims to ease the transition between high school and community college and encourage further educational attainment, whether through higher degrees or stackable certificates. This is part of the state’s larger 40-40-20 Goal which states that 40 percent of the workforce will have four-year degrees or higher, 40 percent will have a postsecondary certificate or associate’s degree, and 20 percent will hold a high school diploma or equivalent and be ready to enter the workforce by 2025. The Initiative is focused on ensuring that all Oregonians have access to and complete short term certificate programs that can lead to either higher levels of degrees or immediate employment in occupations such as healthcare, manufacturing and business.

The Oregon State Board of Education, in 2007, approved Career Pathway Certificates of Completion (CPCC) which are short-term certificates that contain courses linked to competencies that qualify students for an entry-level job. Since then, over 240 CPCCs have been developed, through collaboration of employers and colleges. The programs are flexible and “student-centered,” allowing students to enter the program at several points, depending on their skill level. Between 2008 and 2012, over 5,000 of these short-term certificates were awarded. More recently, the state developed the Career Pathway Roadmaps website has been launched with more than 350 “roadmaps” or plans for students seeking educational goals and career attainment. These roadmaps include all the courses needed, as well as certificates and associate’s degrees offered at the State’s community colleges to pursue specific fields.  

Industry Leaders Training Future Workers

Toyota Advanced Manufacturing Technician Program

With the shift toward a global manufacturing market along with a large group of technically skilled workers retiring, North America Toyota began to evaluate how to recruit new workers and what skills they would need to keep Toyota competitive globally. Toyota officials quickly found the problem of having a “retirement bubble” of workers to replace was compounded by the fact that the next generation of workers needed to have a more comprehensive set of skills than those of the retiring worker.

Toyota identified three main problems: 1) a lack of highly skilled applicants; 2) a lack of basic education skills; and 3) a negative perception of manufacturing. There were not enough sufficiently skilled workers in the pool Toyota would draw from. In fact, the No. 1 unfilled job opening during the Great Recession was for “skilled technicians.” From the numerous applicants Toyota received, only 5 percent were qualified.  This was largely because applicants had a single skill — an electrician, mechanic, welder or a programmer. What Toyota needed was a next generation, multi-skilled worker who had the knowledge to perform a combination of all these jobs. 

Toyota leaders decided that to remain competitive they could not wait for large, systematic change within the education system. They needed to be the catalysts for change. So, they re-imagined their next generation team member into someone with: many skills (electrical, mechanics, fabricator); strong math and reading capabilities; aptitude for fast technical learning; a proficiency with digital media; strong problem solving skills; effective verbal and written communications; good interpersonal skills; and the ability to be a team worker.

With this vision of the next generation skilled technician, Toyota then created a path to get these workers trained. The result was the Advanced Manufacturing Technician Program. It combines classroom instruction with on-site training at a local Toyota manufacturing facility, resulting in an associate’s degree in Applied Science upon completion. Each program is held in a partner community college near a Toyota or another appropriate partner manufacturing facility.

Students receive paid work experience along with an intensive high-tech curriculum, general education skills, and workplace culture/behavior. The program runs for five semesters, with students in class or work for 40 hours a week, allowing for completion within 18 months.  Students work two to three days a week, and earn between $17 and $19 an hour, allowing them to earn as much as $30,000 a year to cover education expenses. The hands-on experience allows students to better integrate their classroom learning immediately. 

The remaining days are spent in the classroom where students receive general education and technical classes such as motor mechanics and welding. Technical classes are held in spaces similar to places of work these students will be in upon completion. The realistic look and feel of a factory keeps Toyota from having to provide “re-training” of students, as they have to for those graduating from traditional community college programs.

There are Advanced Manufacturing Technician Programs in: Kentucky, West Virginia, Indiana, Mississippi and Texas, and all of them except Kentucky are in the process of recruiting students to begin in the fall of 2013. Kentucky’s program began in 2010, partnering with Bluegrass Community and Technical College, and has graduated three classes to date. Other companies have joined with Toyota to provide manufacturing training, including 3M, Central Wheel Manufacturing, and GR Spring.

Students who have completed the program have all passed the Toyota technical written exam.  Additionally, average test results have been above passing in all four technical areas, compared to candidates coming into Toyota apart of the AMT Program. They typically enter with only one or two areas passed. The result thus far has been the multi-skilled technicians Toyota envisioned.

Pennsylvania Industry Partnership

In 2006, lawmakers in Pennsylvania passed legislation allocating $20 million in state revenue and $10 million in state-designated federal Workforce Investment Act resources to develop partnerships of employers from a single regional industry to identify common skill gaps. The partnerships were then charged with developing curricula and credentials needed for designated occupations at local community colleges and WIA-funded training providers. Called “Industry Partnerships,” there are now about 80 with 6,300 businesses receiving funding not only from the state but from employer investments as well. By the end of 2009, nearly 100,000 participants had been trained through the Industry Partnership and participants were experiencing up to 6.6 percent wage gain after completion of the program.

The partnerships publicize particular clusters of industries with good wages and benefits, or that have the greatest potential for economic growth or challenges to growth or retention. These areas include manufacturing, bio-medical, business and financial services, and healthcare and bio-medical, among other fields. The partnerships develop training and education programs for workers and assist in placing dislocated workers in open jobs with other employers within the partnerships.

Other Resources

The Colorado Example

To prepare students for the 21st century workforce, states are looking to create seamless systems of education that begin supporting students to be college and career ready from their first day of school. This requires alignment, coordination and communication between several education and workforce sectors. Colorado is one state moving the needle to strengthen their pipeline by getting these sectors to work together, aligning policy and programs to guide students to success.

Colorado Capitol

At NCSL's 2013 Spring Forum, leaders from Colorado spoke to participants about what Colorado is doing to strengthen the connections between K-12, college, and workforce sectors, and where more work needs to be done. Some of the policy areas discussed included aligning standards and assessments between K-12 and higher education, developing longitudinal data systems and processes to share information, creating a statewide education master plan, and creating career pathways and sector partnerships to connect education to jobs.  

Lieutenant Governor Joseph Garcia is the executive director of the Colorado Department of Higher Education. Before his appointment by Governor John Hickenlooper in January 2011, Garcia was president of Colorado State University-Pueblo and energized the campus by considering nontraditional solutions to longstanding issues. Garcia provided an overview of the state's plan to connect their sectors in meaningful ways to enable better communication and use data to ensure students are moving through the education pipeline successfully. He sat down with NCSL staff to discuss these initatives and how state legislators are supporting this work.

Geri Anderson currently serves as the vice president of Academic and Student Affairs and Provost for the Colorado Community College System. In the role of chief academic and student affairs officer, Anderson provides leadership for all community college academic and student affairs policy review and development, ensuring the development and enhancement of high-quality career and technical and transfer education programs through on-going program review, assessment of student learning, and high academic standards. Anderson provided information on how Colorado is better connecting education to Colorado's workforce needs through sector partnerships and career pathways. She also highlighted work being done to reform developmental education and save students time and money in order to complete college.

Colorado's Enabling Legislation

 K-12 to Higher Education Alignment                

  •  SB  212 (2008) | Postsecondary Education Alignment Act: Requires various state agencies to work in close collaboration to create a seamless system of public education standards, expectations and assessments. Required State Board of Education and Colorado Commission of Higher Education to create a description of Postsecondary and Workforce Readiness. Additionally, required CCHE to revise remediation and admission policies to align with definition of Postsecondary and Workforce Readiness.
  •  SB 163 (2009) | K-12 Accountability: Includes use of postsecondary and workforce readiness in district accreditation plan. Aligns accountability and accreditation measures and procedures, assigns specified related duties to the State Board of Education in regard to accountability to include measuring student academic growth, school district and charter school accreditation contracts, public school restructuring, school and district academic growth indicators, school performance monitoring, education related data, and school and district turnaround plans.
  • SB 256 (2009) | Individual Career & Academic Plans (ICAP): Section 17 requires the State Board of Education to establish standards for Individual Career & Academic Plans for students and their parents or legal guardians to explore postsecondary career and educational opporutnities, align their coursework and curriculum, apply to postsecondary institutions, secure financial aid, and ultimately enter the workforce.

 Data Systems  

  •  SB 24 (2006) | Use of K-12 Identifier in Higher education: Requires a postsecondary institution that is eligible for the college opportunity fund program to begin using as the student's primary identifier the unique identification number assigned to the student while enrolled in the elementary to secondary education system.
  •  HB 1364 (2008) | Longitudinal data systems alignment: Adoption of an interdepartmental data protocol. Directs the Chief Information Officer (CIO) in the Office of Information Technology created in the Governor's office to convene the Data Protocol Development Council consisting of representatives from executive branch state agencies. Authorizes each state agency to share data collected in the course of its powers/duties to other state agencies, agencies within legislative and judicial departments, political subdivisions and nongovernmental entities/individuals.
  •  HB 1285 (2009) | Creation of statewide education data advisory group: Duties of group include recommendations to the CIO and data advisory board on protocols/procedures for sharing education data among education agencies; recommend data element standards for individual student records; recommend electronic standards for sharing data among education agencies; recommendations for development of a statewide P-20 education data system; and protocols for responding to data requests.
  •  SB 53 (2013) | Requires ongoing submission of K-12 data to Higher Education and allows for full connection of datasets and access for higher education systems/colleges. 

 Concurrent Enrollment               

  •  HB 1319 (2009) | Overhauled and dramatically expanded the state’s concurrent enrollment programs, program enrollment grew by 250 percent following the adoption of this bill. The bill also included provisions to make remedial courses available to 12th graders as part of concurrent enrollment and created the ASCENT (Accelerating Students Through Concurrent ENrollmenT) program.  ASCENT allows students who are eligible to graduate instead remain enrolled in their high school and earn both a high school diploma and college certificate or associates degree over a five year extended high school experience.
  • SB 285 (2009) | Included career and technical education as options for concurrent enrollment programs.

 Remedial Reform

 Performance Funding & Statewide Master Planning

 Educational Pathway to Workforce

  •  HB 1061 (2012) | Skills for Jobs Act: Directs the Department of Higher Ed to create an annual report to assess projected state workforce needs, projected number of people receiving the credentials necessary for those positions, gaps that are not met by current available education/training programs, as well as any private or public institution that could address those gaps through new programs or expansion of existing programs. Institutions encouraged to use report to plan their offered courses of study. Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, Department of Regulatory Agencies and any other needed entity the Department of Higher Ed deems necessary, are to provide the available resources, data, and consultation to create the report.
  •  HB 1165 (2013) | Creation of the Advanced Manufacturing Pathway: Requires the community colleges in conjunction with the department of labor and employment, the state work force development council, the department of higher education, and the department of education, to design a manufacturing career pathway for the skills needed for employment in Colorado's manufacturing sector.
  •  HB 1005 (2013) | Basic Ed and Career and Tech Ed Pilot Program: Directs the community colleges, area vocational schools, the department of education, and local workforce development programs, to implement a pilot program of 20 career and technical education certificate programs that combine basic education in information and math literacy with career and technical education.

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