A Tsunami of New Jobs

Georgia’s manufacturers are starting early to expose students to in-demand careers.

An EV manufacturing boom has Georgia scrambling to find workers, with urgency shared by the Biden administration. Some Georgia employers are reaching into K-12 schools to offer career exploration. Also, how to knock down silos to create skills wallets, with a look at progress in North Dakota.

Savannah, Ga., where a $5.5B Hyundai EV plant is being built nearby. Photo by Mick Haupt on Unsplash

Starting Early With Career Exploration

Georgia is the biggest winner so far in America’s clean energy boom. Since last year, the state has landed investments of more than $15B for new clean manufacturing projects, mostly for electric vehicle and battery production.

Workforce development poses a serious challenge as Georgia seeks to capitalize on the new money and the jobs it could create. The state’s manufacturers had 180K unfilled jobs last year, according to the Georgia Association of Manufacturing, an inconceivably big number that has barely begun to reflect the EV hiring bonanza.

“We don’t have the people to fill these new jobs, let alone the existing jobs that we have,” says Stephanie Scearce, the association’s director of workforce development.

As a result, Georgia’s manufacturers increasingly are trying to reach into K-12 schools. Their goal is to help students get a better sense of the career opportunities in the industry, what those jobs really are, and whether they might be a good fit. Meanwhile, the Georgia Department of Education is developing a pathway of EV career courses to prepare students to work in the industry.

However, manufacturers first need to change student perceptions about those careers—which tend to be heavy on abandoned factories and unstable, dirty jobs.

“It’s not necessarily just training anymore—you have to find people,” says Scearce, who recently was vice president of economic development for Georgia Northwestern Technical College.

The Biden administration shares the urgency felt by Georgia’s manufacturers. “A tsunami of new jobs are coming,” Miguel Cardona, the U.S. secretary of education, said last week at an event hosted by Community College of Aurora, which is located in Colorado.

Massive federal spending on the Infrastructure, CHIPS, and Inflation Reduction Acts will create millions of “well-paying, family-sustaining, community-building jobs,” the secretary said. “But without bold and intentional collaboration, this wave of opportunity can pass our students by,” Cardona said, citing barriers between K-12, college, and workforce systems.

At the event, the department rolled out its Career Connected High School Grant program, which will distribute $25M in awards to local consortia of educational agencies, colleges, and employers. The goal is to better align the last two years of high school with the first two of postsecondary education, to improve college and career outcomes. (Click over to Open Campus to read an article about the summit by Jason Gonazales of Chalkbeat Colorado.)

“We’ve maintained in this country a four-year-college-or-bust mentality, and that leaves too many students behind,” said Cardona, stressing a need for K-12 schools to create “pathways to rewarding careers.”

Changing Mind-Sets and Opening Doors

A growing movement seeks to help kids think about their career plans as early as middle school. And two-thirds of current high schoolers and graduates say they would have benefited from more career exploration in middle or high school, according to research from ASA.

The Georgia Association of Manufacturers is trying to give K-12 students in the state a fuller picture of career opportunities through a partnership with YouScience. The student engagement company measures aptitude and seeks to help K-12 students connect with careers and educational paths.

“How can we better educate these kids, so they can make better informed choices?” asks Scearce. She adds that manufacturers also want to tap into their home base—a 60-mile radius or so—to “keep people in our communities.”

YouScience offers an employer-facing tool for companies to find students with aptitudes for their industry. It allows employers to share information about those careers and to provide students with work-based learning opportunities. Those experiences include internships, apprenticeships, experiential career fairs, teaching lessons, job shadowing, mock interviews, and site visits, among others, says Edson Barton, CEO of YouScience.

“As education and businesses start to focus on standards and certifications leading to career development and outcomes,” he says, the “possibilities of how to work together to better equip students really start to come alive.”

Companies say they want to find people with durable skills, like critical thinking, teamwork, and communication, says Barton. But just having those skills isn’t enough.

“They need people with skills relevant to the jobs they need done,” he says. “Every employer needs career and technical skills related to their needs.”

Manufacturers in Georgia are using the fee-based YouScience platform to begin engaging with middle school and high school students, in some cases actively promoting critical job roles. Some companies are seeking to change mind-sets, says Scearce, while making introductions and offering activities like tours of plants for groups of sophomores.

Roughly 30 companies are directly connecting with students through the platform, she says. Also participating are Kia, which next year is expanding its huge manufacturing footprint in Georgia to begin building the EV9 SUV, and Shaw Industries Group, a large flooring company based in the state.

Students and their parents or guardians who use tools from YouScience own their data, which is also the case for adult users, Barton says. Any information employers can access is anonymized. He says if students want to “transition from an academic understanding of an industry and an employer into an interactive experience,” such as by applying for jobs, that step is initiated by the student.

Engagement between K-12 schools and Georgia manufacturers is starting to catch on, says Scearce, with more interest from both sides in recent years. That’s a good thing, she says, because updating attitudes about the booming industry may require generational change.

The Kicker: “It takes a long time to rebuild an image,” says Scearce.

Skills Wallets and the ‘Labyrinth of Silos’

Last week I wrote about the Alabama Talent Triad, an ambitious effort to build a skills-based hiring ecosystem. Other states are chipping away at similar projects. A linchpin to much of this work is the successful development of learner and employment records, and whether or not people actually use these digital wallets.

Naomi Boyer writes this week in an op-ed for Work Shift about how moves by employers to drop degree requirements are positioning skills as the currency of the future.

“But, as with any currency, the skills a worker accumulates throughout their life will need to be kept in a wallet, where they can be both securely held and easily accessed,” writes Boyer, senior vice president of digital transformation at Education Design Lab.

Creating skills wallets that are commonly understood, recognized, and accepted is an immense undertaking, she writes. It’s also made more complicated by the “labyrinth of silos” that education and workforce systems rest on.

Boyer describes how North Dakota is at the forefront of knocking down those walls. The state recently launched an application that allows its residents to have all their high school transcripts, degrees, certifications, badges, and skills housed in a single accessible and secure location. The resulting digital wallet is now live and available across the state.

Click over to Work Shift to read Boyer’s take on skills wallets and the cross-sectoral initiative in North Dakota.

Open Tabs

CHIP Credentials
To prevent labor shortages that could hold back the U.S. semiconductor manufacturing boom, governments and employers should expand apprenticeships and offer college credit for them, wrote The Washington Post’s editorial board. Also needed is a public-private effort to create a chip workforce credentialing system, which community colleges could adopt, as well as more wraparound supports for workers.

Industrial Policy
The U.S. Department of Commerce has been assembling a team of Wall Street financiers to help allocate $39B in federal manufacturing subsidies and incentives aimed at reviving the nation’s chip industry, Yuka Hayashi reports for The Wall Street Journal. The team’s tasks include picking winners and losers among 460 applying companies, with goals of being careful with resources and avoiding political pressure.

Chronic Absenteeism
More than a quarter of K-12 students in the U.S. missed at least 10% of 2021–22 school year, making them chronically absent, Bianca Vázquez Toness reported for the AP, citing a data analysis by Thomas Dee, an education professor at Stanford University. Chronic absences worsened in every state and doubled in seven. Early data on the most recent school year suggests the trend may have long legs—chronic absenteeism remained double its pre-pandemic rate in Connecticut and Massachusetts.

Clean Manufacturing
A strong majority (72%) of Americans without four-year college degrees approve of investments in clean energy and clean manufacturing, with 68% also believing the jobs that will be created will be good jobs for working-class families, according to a BlueGreen Alliance survey of voters in 13 states. Respondents hope clean energy jobs will be open to workers without degrees or experience who are willing to learn on the job.

Data-Rich Degrees
The bigger story is getting lost in the artificial debate over skills versus degrees, Sean Gallagher, executive director of Northeastern University’s Center for the Future of Higher Education and Talent Strategy, writes in EdSurge. Employer hiring practices are evolving rapidly with new technologies, and that has major implications for higher education that have nothing to do with being outcompeted by college alternatives. Rather, degrees themselves will need to evolve to be more data-rich credentials, ones that are aligned with labor market demand and can “speak” to employer tech.

Job Moves
Lacey Pittman Tomanek is the new executive director of PelotonU, an Austin-based nonprofit that provides coaching and support to working learners. Pittman Tomanek previously worked at Teach for America, most recently as COO of its Systems Impact Lab. She replaces Hudson Baird, PelotonU’s co-founder and executive director, who is pursuing a master’s degree in business from the University of Oxford.

Constance St. Germain is the next president of Capella University, home to one of the nation’s largest competency-based postsecondary education programs. St. Germain is the university’s provost and senior vice president of academic affairs. She is a U.S. Army veteran and served as a major in the Judge Advocate General’s Corps. Richard Senese, the university’s longtime president, will retire in September and join Capella’s Board of Trustees.

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