Nontraditional Schools Experience Surge in Enrollment

August 1, 2012

The Institute for a Competitive Workforce (ICW) has been reporting on the skills gap crisis in the country for months. As the education and workforce affiliate of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, ICW is in the unique position of speaking directly with business leaders around the country about the uncertainty they face. Their number one challenge is finding a qualified workforce. Time and time again, we hear “I have open jobs but what I don’t have is a pipeline of skilled talent to fill those jobs.” As we have discussed, the education community needs to do a better job of providing an education in areas where there is a high demand for skilled workers.

Well, it looks as if nontraditional schools are providing a valuable service by training students with the skills sought by the manufacturing industry. A recent CNNMoney article explains how there is a surge in enrollment at technical schools as some manufacturing jobs are coming back from overseas and new ones are being created. The demand for high-skilled workers is starting to connect with those looking for a new career and those looking to advance in the one they currently have. Additionally, the payoff for a student receiving a technical accreditation is attractive: a starting salary can be as much as $50,000 - $60,000.

One challenge, however, is that the influx of students has put a strain on the capacity of the schools. As states continue to tighten their belts due to budget constraints, public technical schools are finding it difficult to hire enough instructors to fill the demand. To address this challenge, many schools have found innovative ways to cut costs and improve access. The Dunwoody College of Technology in Minneapolis has created a “fast tracked” six month program in computer aided and robotics manufacturing while Lanier Technical College in Georgia has introduced a “virtual trainer” in its hands-on welding classes in an effort to train more students in less time by allowing some to train on a computer screen.

Technical schools are playing an active role in putting a dent in the more than 3.4 million unfilled jobs around the country. Schools like these provide a great service to employers and the workforce—providing direct training in careers that the business community actually needs. Nontraditional schools will not solve all of our problems around the skills gap, but they are playing an important role in helping to close it.

On September 20, ICW will host business leaders, policymakers, and innovative education organizations to discuss a wide variety of issues throughout postsecondary education and the workforce at an event titled, Help Wanted: Addressing the Skills Gap at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington, D.C. If you are interested in joining us or want to learn more, please visit the event webpage.

Mark D'Alessio is Manager of Communications for ICW.