Making sure graduates have tech skills that matter

Tech jobs aren’t the center of the Biden workforce proposals, but that doesn’t mean demand for those skills has waned.

This week’s issue looks at SAS credentials, demographic drought and job market data, and how allied health training can lead to better jobs. (To get this newsletter in your inbox, sign up here.)

Embedded SAS Credentials

Maybe it’s growing unease with Big Tech or bad PR from the “coding for coal miners” projects from the Obama era, but tech jobs have been largely written out of workforce solutions the Biden administration is touting, as a source told me this week.

But that doesn’t mean demand for tech skills has waned. A growing share of jobs require college graduates to have at least some IT or digital science skills. A broad swath of the higher education industry accepts this and is working to embed such skills across academic programs.

More colleges are partnering with tech companies to help ensure that the skills they offer students are relevant and up to date. The SAS Institute, for example, now has formal partnerships with roughly 200 colleges and universities in the U.S., and 396 institutions globally.

The large analytics software company, which was created in the ‘70s by the leaders of a project at North Carolina State University, works with colleges to integrate its suite of analytics software into curricula. The institute’s free academic hub offers SAS courses and certifications to educators and students, including “academic specialization” badges students can put on their LinkedIn profiles or resumes.

“We are seeing recruiters and hiring managers from top companies expand their use of badges as an industry-standard verification of skills and competencies,” says Lynn Letukas, senior director of global academic programs and certifications for SAS Education.

Last year more than 180,000 U.S. job postings cited demand for SAS skills. And Letukas says faculty members generally have a good idea of the skills students will need in the job market.

“However, what they may not know, and where we can help, is what distinguishing skills can give their students a competitive advantage over other early-career prospects,” she says. “This is especially important at less selective and open-access institutions, where students may already be at a disadvantage for getting interviews and/or jobs at top companies.”

Staying current with tech skills can be a full-time gig, Letukas says. Through partnerships with the company, faculty members receive instruction from the institute’s trainers on up-to-date tools related to statistics, analytics, AI, and machine learning.

The company is continuing to build relationships between highly selective colleges and top employers. But Letukas says SAS credentials from less-selective and open-access institutions can signify to employers that the skills and competencies taught in those programs are just as strong as those from name-brand universities.

For example, Rhode Island College is working with the institute to create an analytics certificate with an eye toward the local labor market.

RIC is facing reduced enrollment. With the new certificate and courses in high-demand areas such as data analytics, the college is hoping to help attract both traditional high school graduates and working professionals who need to upskill, says Lisa Z. Bain, a professor at RIC’s School of Management.

“SAS skills are desired by the IT industry, so it makes our students more marketable,” Bain says.

The institute uses labor market data from Emsi (more from Emsi, below), a team of industry experts, and partnerships with a wide range of companies to help colleges better align academic programs with the early-career skills sought by top employers.

The Kicker:

“We have moved from a more knowledge-based approach to a performance-based exam where candidates actually use our software in a live lab environment while testing—a shift from ‘tell me’ to ‘show me,'” Letukas says. “From a hiring perspective, anyone can say they use SAS, but being able to demonstrate knowledge and proficiency in the environment—the show me—is enormously valuable.”

Demographic Drought

Birth rates in the U.S. fell for the sixth consecutive year, according to new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Last year’s 4-percent decline marked the lowest number of births since 1979.

Three million baby boomers left the workforce in 2020, an increase of more than a million from the previous year, according to Emsi. Millions of prime working-age women also have left the labor market, and for decades, a growing proportion of men have either been leaving the workforce or opting for part-time work.

Emsi this week released a report that’s drawing attention to what the labor analytics firm predicts will be a coming demographic drought. The impact on the labor market will require businesses, colleges, and communities to “prepare for a new and radically different recruiting equation,” Emsi said.

Rob Sentz, Emsi’s chief innovation officer, said colleges will need to continue gearing up to serve more working adults.

“Forward-thinking institutions should be evaluating their current offerings to look for ways to enhance and communicate their value and how their current offerings line up to key parts of the labor market that are in desperate need for talent,” he says.

Companies should start their recruiting processes early, says Sentz, and target people they typically haven’t tried to hire.

“Schools can help by communicating with students and potential students about the reality of the labor market and by helping students find their sweet spot,” he says. “Companies certainly want those students and schools can do a lot to play matchmaker.”

An Information Desert?

A couple weeks ago in the newsletter I relayed a question from Scott Cheney, Credential Engine’s CEO, who is looking for experts who can bring an equity lens to efforts to develop information about credentials. We only got one response, as did a similar note to several foundations.

What gives? Does this research or expertise exist? If anyone is working on how credential frameworks may be skewed due to racial and gender inequities, get in touch?

Good Jobs in Allied Health

Last week I wrote about Futuro Health, an unusually structured California-based organization that prepares workers for jobs in allied health. A couple of you reached out to agree with an expert quoted in the piece who praised the project for its multi-sector partnership approach, particularly the strong connection with organized labor.

That issue of The Job also cited enrollment gains in health-care programs, a rare increase amid severe dips across higher education.

The hiring demand in this sector seems certain to grow: A recent survey conducted by The Washington Post and the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 29 percent of health-care workers have considered leaving their profession, many because of pandemic-related burnout.

Shalin Jyotishi, a senior policy analyst in the Center on Education & Labor at New America, tweeted in response to the enrollment news last week. He noted that many allied health training programs, particularly non-credit ones, lead to low-wage jobs with little possibility of career advancement.

I asked Jyotishi for examples of non-degree health-care credential programs that lead to decent jobs, career advancement possibilities, and that can be “stacked” toward more advanced credentials and degrees. The certified nursing assistant program from New York’s Monroe Community College fits the bill, he said.

“They’re not as common as they need to be, but we’re exploring creative ways community colleges can not just build stackable credential-career connected pathways but also work with employers to improve job quality in their regions and even be mindful of job quality before training for emergent jobs of the future (which aren’t always of quality),” says Jyotishi.

New America’s New Models for Career Preparation project will feature strategies for community college leaders to improve non-degree stackability, job quality, and financing strategies. And Jyotishi says higher education, employers, and governments can do more to help entry-level health-care workers:

  • Colleges need to be more intentional about how concretely stackable programs correspond to a career ladder, and if they don’t, be honest about it. For example, a California study found that only about 20 percent of certified nursing assistants earned a higher level educational credential, and only around 10 percent became registered nurses within six years. 
  • Colleges should work to improve their non-credit to credit articulation and prior learning assessments, while also including credit for occupational licensing and certification-prep programs.
  • Employers and governments are responsible for ensuring that health-care workers are paid what they deserve. One way would be to increase reimbursement rates for long-term care. This and a state wage pass-through law would result in more money for caregivers. 
  • To reduce turnover, employers should improve the quality of entry-level jobs by increasing wages, offering more stable and regular working hours, and a greater level of control over scheduling.

Open Tabs


An end-to-end solution is needed to operate a credential marketplace and to provide persistent learner profiles across a wide range of academic and occupational programs, according to a new report announcing the creation of the Credential Alliance. The report was authored by Gordon Freedman, president of National Laboratory for Education Transformation.

Colorado this week announced a postsecondary educational attainment rate of 61 percent, reported Alison Griffin, senior vice president for Whiteboard Advisors. The rate is high, substantially topping the U.S. average of 51.9 percent, according to the Lumina Foundation’s measure. But Colorado has some of the nation’s largest attainment gaps by race.

Non-Degree Interventions

“The ongoing COVID crisis will disproportionately impact individuals without four-year college degrees in the coming decade—particularly Black and Latinx Americans—unless we as a country can provide effective interventions,” said Gerald Chertavian, founder and CEO of Year Up, a national nonprofit workforce development group. Four years after completing, Year Up participants saw an annual wage bump of $8,000 compared to a control group, according to a new report from Abt Associates.

A coalition of nonprofits have partnered with Grow with Google on its Career Readiness for Reentry program, which seeks to train more than 10,000 people who have been impacted by incarceration on digital skills they can use to get a job or start businesses.

AI and UBI

The impact of advances in AI and automation on the job market is reaching a tipping point and is likely to undermine democracy and individual freedoms, Daron Acemoglu, an economist at MIT, told Thomas B. Edsall, a columnist for The New York Times. “Our current trajectory automates work to an excessive degree while refusing to invest in human productivity; further advances will displace workers and fail to create new opportunities.”

Nine of the 40 participants in Mayors for a Guaranteed Income have launched pilot universal basic income programs—long-term cash payments for residents with no strings attached—and another six mayors are planning programs, reported Chase DiBenedetto for Mashable. “No army can stop an idea whose time has come,” wrote Michael Tubbs, the group’s founder and the former mayor of Stockton, Calif., which experimented with guaranteed income.

Job Market Data

Employment among 20-29 year olds with a bachelor’s degree declined to 67.3 percent in 2020 from 76 percent the previous year, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data released last week. The unemployment rate for recent associate degree recipients in this age group was 15.8 percent, compared to 12.8 percent for recent bachelor’s degree recipients.

Private sector employment grew by 742,000 jobs from March to April, the biggest gain since September, according to the ADP Research Institute. The biggest growth was in leisure and hospitality (up 237,000) and trade, transportation, and utilities (up 155,000). “While payrolls are still more than 8 million jobs short of pre-COVID-19 levels, job gains have totaled 1.3 million in the last two months,” said Nela Richardson, ADP’s chief economist.

The tech industry has been comparatively unscathed by the pandemic, reported Neil Irwin for The New York Times, citing first-quarter GDP data. Spending was up 23 percent on information processing equipment and 7.4 percent on software compared to pre-pandemic trends. Durable goods and housing also are surging. But while spending on restaurants, airline tickets, concerts, and other recreational activities were up, these services remain in a deep hole.

Citing the latest data on job openings, Heidi Shierholz, senior economist and director of policy for the Economic Policy Institute, this week wrote that there were nearly 40 percent more unemployed workers than job openings overall, and more than 80 percent more in the leisure and hospitality sector.

Let me know what I missed? Catch you next week — PF @paulfain

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