Op-Ed on Career Education and Apprenticeships

Much discussion and debate is currently taking place surrounding the nation’s labor force and global competitiveness; and the relevancy between academic programs and real-work dynamics.

A recent report by DVP-Praxis, funded by the Lumina Foundation, found that earning a non-degree credential of any kind was associated with a 5-to-15 percentage point increase in the likelihood of employment. Wage gains were larger and more consistent for credentials taking at least six months to complete; however, it was noted that even credentials earned in less than six months have a significant positive association with employment outcomes.

In August of 2019, the U.S. Department of Labor published a report confirming that the number of people looking for work was significantly lower than the number of job openings by approximately 7 million.  Historically, the inverse relationship of workers to job demands has existed until January 2018 when the statistic flipped.

Unfortunately, more than half of Americans between the ages of 25-64 do not hold a post-secondary credential, which hinders their labor market opportunities.  Obtaining education and training beyond high school has become necessary for not only securing employment and advancing beyond low-paying jobs in today’s economy, but also for finding success in the future labor market.

In addition, our society must focus on the quality of human skills–like critical thinking, problem solving, creativity, and innovation.  In other words, we must create opportunities for jobs that do not exist today, with educational programming that is relevant and transferable.

If we don’t provide the skilled labor force needed, the results will be the exportation of jobs out of the country and a weakening of the labor market and economy.  There are many different pathways to good careers that are compensated at a strong, sustainable, family wage.  Negative perceptions of career education have created a drought in the pipeline of individuals to fill high demand, high wage jobs.  There are, indeed, multiple options and good positive pathways leading to fulfilling careers.

So, where do we go from here?  Northwest Florida State College, recognized as a high-quality higher education institution, delivers outstanding education in university transfer, health sciences, and career education programming. The College has stepped forward to develop some of the first state-recognized apprenticeship and internship programs in the region. These on-the-job training programs provide students with essential employability skills that create a dynamic and effective workforce. Most recently, we received $275,000 from the State of Florida to develop unobstructed apprenticeship pathways for those desiring to enter the fields of plumbing, electricity, and construction.

A 2019 study by New America found that the most important takeaways for higher education providers are supporting learning and development toward lifelong careers; preparing students for entering the job market or graduate school; and teaching work-related skills and knowledge.

Undoubtedly, Florida’s State Colleges are a phenomenal asset and the best solution to America’s trillion dollar student loan debt crisis that now comprises 15% of the U.S. GDP. The courses taken in the first two years at Northwest Florida State College are almost identical to the first two years’ courses at a four-year college, but the cost is significantly lower, substantially reducing the post-graduation financial burden on parents and students.  Students who succeed in their first two years at a state college, can often earn a full-ride scholarship to a university or four-year college, without the burden of student loan debt.  They both now have rewarding professional careers and are now upscaling their credentials to advance even further in their respective fields.

For over 60 years, Northwest Florida State College has served as a beacon of hope and promise in this region.  Today, the College generates a $326 million economic impact and consistently performs with a 10.6% rate of return for taxpayers’ investment, according to a recent EMSI study.  We create higher alumni earnings and increased business profit totaling $278 million to the region’s annual income.

We continue to strive to remain relevant, and I can assure you we are working each and every day to ‘make a difference’ and ‘improve lives’ in Northwest Florida. Regardless of the career path, Northwest Florida State College is the open door for all students to pursue a strong and progressive future.

— Dr. Devin Stephenson, Northwest Florida State College President

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