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Waiting for Projected Jobs

Timing matters for workers who pursue training to break into emerging industries.

Community Colleges scramble to add training programs for expected new EV, semiconductor, and AI-related jobs, with financial backing from the feds and industry. Will the jobs follow? Also, two new reports on college ROI, and an essay on why workers need custom career paths.

Photo by Lex Photography on Pexels

Train and Wait for the Jobs

The U.S. electric vehicle industry is projected to boom in coming years, despite partisan headwinds. In Michigan, state officials hope 7K workers will enter the EV workforce by 2030. Many of those jobs won’t require a bachelor’s degree, including maintenance technicians.

Community colleges and nonprofits are scrambling to create job training programs to meet the forecasted demand for EV jobs, often with prodding from state governments. Semiconductor manufacturing and AI-related jobs also seem like safe bets for growth, in part because of big infusions of federal money through place-based industrial policy.

President Biden yesterday visited Gateway Technical College’s campus in Racine, Wisconsin, to tout Microsoft’s $3.3B pledge to build an AI data center there. He said the facility will lead to the creation of thousands of jobs.

Folks are getting trained in new high-paying, high-skilled jobs that don’t require a four-year college degree and don’t require you to leave home,” Biden said.

The question of when to enroll in training programs is tricky, however. Timing is crucial for workers who can’t afford to wait long for their investment of time and money to pay off. 

Marcus Glenn has remained optimistic about his attempt to land a good career in the EV industry. But job opportunities have been few and far between in the months after Glenn, 35, became one of the first Detroiters to complete a new eight-week skills-training program for technicians who work on electric vehicle charging stations.

“As far as the career itself and just knowing how things move in Detroit, it could be maybe up until the end of the year,” Glenn told reporter Ethan Bakuli, who recently wrote for Work Shift about the region’s expanding EV job-training options.

With two years of college under his belt, Glenn does contract work test driving cars. He is hopeful the nationally certified EV technician course eventually will lead to a better-paying and more stable career.

“Even if I’m not working on chargers, just to have a way into an industry that will be blooming in some capacity is nice,” he said.

The semiconductor industry poses similar challenges for aspiring career changers, as Heather Long, Kai Ryssdal, and Maria Hollenhorst wrote last week in The Washington Post.

The Biden administration is on track to allocate all $39B in CHIPS Act grant money this year. At some point, the “industry will no doubt have an explosion of jobs,” they write, including for roughly 28K technicians who don’t need four-year degrees.

Yet the vast majority of that hiring hasn’t happened yet, with stalled growth of the semiconductor manufacturing workforce. The industry’s slowdown is undermining some training programs, including those offered by the Maricopa Community Colleges in Arizona.

For example, only one student in a recent cohort that completed a high-profile, 10-day training course had secured a job in the industry, according to the WaPo essay, and hardly any companies came to a recent career fair for students. Maricopa is not offering the course this summer.

“Students can’t wait forever,” its authors conclude.

Unrealized hiring gains in growth industries are a long-standing problem for community colleges and the students they educate, says Karen Stout, president and CEO at Achieving the Dream.

“It’s being amplified right now because of the needs for these perceived new jobs,” she says.

When Stout led Pennsylvania’s Montgomery County Community College, industry reps often would come to the college armed with labor-market data to make the case for training technicians in hot fields. The college would move fast to create new programs, only to be told later that the projected positions had changed, or that companies had been able to retrain workers to fill those roles.

The challenge is even more profound for new and emerging industries, says Stout, including for AI-related positions. “We’re trying to predict competencies and skills for jobs where we don’t really know what they are,” she says.

A growing number of community colleges are rolling out AI programs, often with a boost from Big Tech, Colleen Connolly reports this week for Work Shift. For example, Oregon’s Umpqua Community College, just launched an AI certificate program, with support from Intel and Dell Technologies and the encouragement of the state.

College leaders need to figure out if industry partners plan to hire actively from new programs, says Shalin Jyotishi, a senior advisor at New America and the founder of its Initiative on the Future of Work and the Innovation Economy.

“The greatest risk is in colleges building programs that aren’t aligned with the needs of actual people making decisions around hiring their graduates locally,” he says.

If a Big Tech partner won’t be hiring many graduates, Jyotishi says colleges should make a plan for vetting curricula with local employers who will.

“Hype cycles are rife in technology,” he says, “and the honest truth is colleges and even states may not have the capacity to navigate and call bluff, especially when they’re tied to political or policy moves.”

However, Jyotishi says it’s fantastic that tech giants are investing in AI education capacity in the two-year college sector. 

“Big Tech support has created opportunities for faculty and students that were unlikely to exist without these investments,” he says, “especially since Congress decided to cut the budget of the National Science Foundation in the last appropriations cycle rather than follow through on its CHIPS Act budget commitments and authorizations.”

The best way to eliminate some of the risk of developing a tech-training program that leads to dead ends for graduates, says Stout, is to deepen ties between community colleges and employers. She praises efforts by the Biden administration to embed community college training in big federal grants.

Likewise, she says leaders in the sector have been heartened by significant investments made by the federal government and tech companies themselves.

The Kicker: “We really are at the table,” Stout says. “This is different.”

Is College Worth It?

Two reports on ROI in higher education dropped this week. 

An analysis commissioned by the College Futures Foundation assesses earnings outcomes at an institution-wide level for roughly 731K low- and moderate-income undergraduates at 292 colleges and universities across California. Michael Itzkowitz, the report’s lead author and the founder and president of the HEA Group, used federal College Scorecard data to determine how long it takes these students to recoup their educational costs.

The report’s findings, which will be shared during a webinar today, include:

  • Sixty California institutions have a payback period of five years or longer for the low- and moderate-income students they enroll.

  • A majority of these students at 24 institutions are earning less than a typical high school graduate.

  • Virtually all (96%) of associate’s degree-granting institutions have payback periods of five years or less for this segment.

  • These students at a quarter (24%) of certificate-granting institutions had no ROI.

A report from Preston Cooper, a scholar at the Foundation for Research on Equal Opportunity, updates his previous ROI analyses by tapping additional College Scorecard data. It includes program-level estimates for 53K degree and certificate programs. The report features an augmented methodology, such as accounting for the socioeconomic distribution of each college’s students. It also includes a completion-adjusted measure of ROI based on each college’s actual completion outcomes.

Here are some of the report’s completion-adjusted findings:

  • Roughly 23% of four-year degree programs and 43% of two-year degree programs have a negative return on investment. 

  • Undergraduate certificates in the technical trades are more lucrative than a bachelor’s degree.

  • Associate degrees in liberal arts or general studies have a negative median ROI.

  • Almost all undergraduate cosmetology certificates yield a negative ROI.

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Open Tabs

AI Jobs
President Biden announced a $3.3B investment by Microsoft to build an AI data center in Wisconsin. The project will create 2,300 union construction jobs and 2K permanent jobs, according to the White House. Microsoft will partner with Gateway Technical College to develop an academy to train workers for the data center. The company also plans to build an innovation lab in the region to train business leaders to adopt AI in their operations.

AI at Work
Use of generative AI has nearly doubled in the last six months, with 75% of global knowledge workers using it, according to a report from Microsoft and LinkedIn, which includes global survey results from 31K people. Only 39% of people using AI at work say they have gotten AI training from their company, while 71% of leaders say they’d rather hire a less experienced job candidate with AI skills than a more experienced one without them.

Time Poverty
Nearly three-quarters of college students aged 25 and older work while enrolled, according to a survey on student financial wellness conducted by Trellis Strategies. A majority of these “modern learners” (62%) think of themselves as workers who go to school, rather than as students who work. Likewise, 70% of modern learners said it’s important that they financially support their family while in college, compared to 34% of younger students.

Job Market Responsiveness
Four-year colleges in the U.S. respond to changes in labor market demand, according to new research from the Upjohn Institute. Researchers found that a 1% increase in job postings, on average, leads to a 1.3% rise in degrees and course credits in the same field. Tuition-dependent colleges and those whose primary mission is teaching are the most likely to shift, and changes are largest when the majors are less expensive to deliver.

Wage Gap
The bachelor’s degree narrows the earnings gap between Black and white men who are college graduates, not by reducing the influence of class background and pre-college academic ability, but by lessening the unexplained penalty of being Black in the labor market, according to research published recently in the American Sociological Review. The equalizing effect of the four-year degree also is partly offset by unequal likelihoods of completion.

Community College Excellence
The Aspen Institute named 20 semifinalists for its $1M prize for community college excellence. The award, which is made every two years, honors colleges with outstanding performance in teaching and learning, student completion, transfer and bachelor’s degree attainment, workforce success, broad access to the college and its offerings, and equitable outcomes for students of color and students from low-income backgrounds.

Thanks for reading. Catch you next week. —PF