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Opportunity in Remote Work

SkillUp wants to help jobseekers without four-year degrees find remote jobs.

Community colleges post enrollment gains nationwide, led by growth in dual enrollment and shorter-term programs. Also, SkillUp’s new jobs catalog connects jobseekers without bachelor’s to remote roles, and a prediction from Accenture about AI’s real disruption to worker reskilling.

Photo by Surface on Unsplash

Remote Jobs for Workers Without Bachelor’s

A new job catalog from the SkillUp Coalition seeks to connect workers without four-year degrees to remote job opportunities that pay well and offer career advancement and paths to more education.

Roughly 7M Americans work in fully remote jobs, up from 4M in 2020, according to data from Lightcast and Revelio Labs. But Lightcast, a labor market analytics firm, projects that 33M U.S. workers are in roles that are highly suitable for remote work.

Remote workers tend to have more education than their peers, and bachelor’s degree requirements are particularly common for remote jobs. That could change, Lightcast suggests, if skills-based hiring becomes a reality—a big if, many experts say.

“The labor market is not behaving in the way it used to, or should,” Chris Kibarian, Lightcast’s CEO, said this week at the company’s annual meeting. Despite stunningly strong hiring, the U.S. economy is still down 700K workers since the pandemic began, he said, and labor market participation is hovering at 63%, well below the highs seen before the Great Recession. “The old solutions don’t work.”

The nonprofit SkillUp wants to spur changes in remote hiring with its job catalog, which currently features 13K total jobs, 4.5K of which are remote. SkillUp taps data from millions of job postings and uses custom web scrapers from WhereWeGo, the project’s tech partner. The catalog then narrows the funnel to postings in “gateway careers,” which are defined as in-demand and open to jobseekers without a bachelor’s degree, with advancement opportunities, and that pay a living wage according to MIT’s living wage calculator.

The remote jobs mostly are for roles in tech, business, and healthcare. SkillUp hopes to soon grow the catalog to 10K jobs. To cross-promote more nondegree opportunities, the coalition is pulling jobs from Stellarworx, a skills-based talent-matching platform from Opportunity@Work. Currently, almost half of all the open jobs on the platform—in person as well as remote—that do not require a bachelor’s are in business (46%), including jobs in sales, accounting, finance, and HR.

Going Local: The coalition SkillUp has pulled together includes 100+ training and education providers, tech developers, policymakers, employers, and philanthropies. The group operates local partnerships in 15 regional sites, with additional ones coming soon in Phoenix and D.C. 

“SkillUp has done the back-end work and labor market intelligence to really understand the regional and market demands for each of our localization sites,” says Steve Lee, the group’s CEO. “However, we look to our local partners to help with those grassroots connections that we cannot often make.”

The partnerships vary. But they often feature consortia of workforce development boards, chambers of commerce, and academic institutions, which are using state grants or other funding to drive workforce development. SkillUp offers coaching to jobseekers as well as tech help. 

“Our goal is to be represented locally in the top 25 MSAs across the country by the end of 2024,” Lee says.

SkillUp says philanthropic support is key to its model, pointing in particular to funding from the Truist Foundation, which supports the jobs catalog and is an emerging funder of workforce education projects, and MacKenzie Scott, who recently gave $5M to the coalition and who likely has become the biggest philanthropic backer of community colleges and workforce training programs aimed at low-income Americans.

Students Return to Two-Year Colleges

College enrollments grew this fall for the first time since well before the pandemic, buoyed by a 4.4% increase in undergraduates at community colleges, according to initial estimates from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.

Students continued to show a preference for shorter-term credentials, with undergraduate certificates seeing 9.9% growth this fall after several previous gains. Enrollments in degree programs turned positive for the first time in years, with increases of 3.6% for associate and 0.9% for bachelor’s programs.

  • In Maine, for example, community colleges are seeing record-level enrollment, up 16% from last year on the back of a new tuition-free scholarship and interest in career-focused programs. Of the roughly 2.7K new students, 700 were students who moved from short-term workforce programs into degree programs.

  • Similarly, enrollment at Central Oregon Community College is up 20% this fall, with the biggest growth in one- and two-year technical programs that are aligned with open jobs.

Nationally, Latino, Asian American, and, to a lesser extent, Black students accounted for most of the undergraduate enrollment growth at both two-year and four-year institutions, and increases were also particularly strong among traditional-aged students coming from low-income neighborhoods. Dual enrollment of high school students also continued to see especially big gains.

  • In Colorado, community college enrollment is up 8.5% overall, while dual enrollment has surged 18.5%. Degree-seeking students are up just 2%.

  • In Wisconsin, dual enrollment of high school students has also been a major factor in enrollment growth of about 5% at the state’s community colleges, putting them back at 2018 numbers.

The Community College of Aurora, which is located in the Denver metro area, posted a 5.4% enrollment gain this fall, following a 7% bump a year ago. 

“As of this week, CCA has officially climbed back from all our 12% loss experienced initially due to the pandemic,” says Mordecai Brownlee, president of the college. Dual enrollment was up nearly 8%, while online programs are trending up 4% year over year.

The college made waves last year by phasing out 30 degree and certificate programs that didn’t align with student and employer demand. Since then, it has seen a 41% decline in students who withdrew from at least one course and a 28% dip in students repeating courses.

Fall enrollment was up 7% among students in credit-bearing programs across the Alabama Community College System, says Barry May, the system’s executive director of workforce and economic development. The growth in noncredit programs has been strong as well.

Targeted recruiting campaigns appear to be paying off in Alabama, he says. For example, the system has enlisted Wiley to reach out to prospective students who started the enrollment process but didn’t finish. “That has been very successful,” May says. (Missouri also has worked with the publisher and ed-tech company to help with recruiting for workforce programs.)

Welding and commercial driver’s license programs are among those that have seen substantial gains across Alabama’s two-year colleges. In some cases, May says that growth appears to have been aided by moves by the system to shorten programs and to make them more convenient for students. —Elyse Ashburn contributed reporting for this article.

AI as Skills Leveler

A projected 40% of the total work hours for job roles across many industries may be impacted by generative AI in coming years, predicted Ashwin Acharya, the global AI lead for Accenture’s talent and organization practice, during remarks this week at Lightcast’s annual meeting.

Accenture is spending a whopping $3B to advise companies on AI and to double its own AI workforce to 80K employees. Acharya said the technology “works as a skills leveler” for many job roles. In software development, for example, a junior developer can use generative AI to match the productivity of a more senior worker.

AI’s real disruption to worker reskilling probably won’t be what many people are worried about, said Acharya.

The Kicker: “You are going to be replaced by somebody who knows how to use the technology better than you do,” he said.

Open Tabs

Tech Hubs
The U.S. Department of Commerce has named 31 Tech Hubs across the country as part of the implementation of the bipartisan CHIPS Act. The hubs will focus on innovation and job creation in critical sectors including semiconductors, clean energy, precision medicine, and artificial intelligence.

The geographic reach of the designations is broad, crossing 32 states, write three fellows for the Brookings Institution. They call the hub plan a “bid to get more of the American economy closer to the technology frontier through place-based industrial strategy.”

Seamless Pathways
“The lack of an available and prepared workforce in America adds unnecessary fuel to the fire of poverty that burns uncontrollably throughout our communities,” Mordecai Brownlee, president of the Community College of Aurora, writes in EdSurge. Brownlee calls on educators, workforce partners, governmental agencies, and legislators to work together to develop seamless academic and career pathways for more students.

Skills Alignment
The average college major is reasonably well aligned with the skills demanded by employers in related fields, according to a new skills-alignment index from Lightcast. But there’s wide variation by major and by geographic region. Among computer science graduates, for example, those in Virginia are well prepared for related jobs in the state—scoring a 0.8, with 1 being perfect alignment—while in its neighbor West Virginia, skills alignment is only 0.47.

Career Services
Alumni who got strong career support from their colleges were almost three times more likely to say their education was a good investment than those who did not, according to survey results from Lightcast. Yet only 19% of alumni in the latest iteration of the national survey said they received strong support in developing career plans, networking, or finding internships. The findings are consistent with previous surveys of alumni and students by organizations like Strada Education Foundation.

Nondegree Paths
A third of young people who did not enroll in college after high school cited a lack of confidence about the steps needed to transition into a post–high school career and education, according to a survey of 1,100 young people by Morning Consult, which was conducted for ASA and Jobs for the Future. Almost two-thirds (64%) of respondents who were not enrolled in any postsecondary education or training program said they would have considered a nondegree path if they knew more about them.

Union Collaboration
Labor unions can help community colleges tailor their curriculum and programs to better match the demands of local industries, increasing the employability of graduates, according to a new brief from the AFL-CIO’s Working for America Institute. The brief cites several examples of labor collaboration with the sector, including a partnership in New Jersey to create stackable credential tracks for an estimated 7K jobs for an offshore wind farm.

Thanks for reading. Let me know what I missed? —PF