What’s the Big Deal about Pathways?

“People want to know the value they are getting from one of the biggest investments (college education) they will make in their lives,” begins the newest think-piece on better connecting college to careers from national thought leader Anthony Carnavale and team at the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce.

It is true that, just as we discuss how childcare can now cost as much as college, college can now cost as much as a home, which for decades was unchallenged as the largest investment one can make. But no longer.

Career Pathways: Five Ways to Connect College and Careers discusses the simultaneous explosion of occupations and college-level programs of study that has created not just more options than ever before, but more confusion and misalignment between education and true career readiness.

No longer is just getting any four-year college degree the answer.  Micro-credentials, career certifications, skill-related “badges,” and two-year degrees can now carry equal – and sometime greater – value to employers and a faster ticket into good-paying jobs for career candidates This, in turn, can provide a better return on educational investment. But underlying these options is the reality that, “Postsecondary education is increasing a prerequisite for entering the middle class.”

So how do we, in a county that suffers some of the highest poverty rates in the state, with more than half of the residents in this region making less than 200% of the federal poverty rate, ($24,120 for an individual, $49,200 for a family of four), put these additional tools in our toolkit to work for our youth, our single moms, our young families, those who are unemployed and even those who are underemployed?

You’re heard me say it before, and I say it again, pathways are the path forward. Carnavale’s report stresses the importance of connecting post-secondary programs and workforce data to connect students and adult workers with career pathways, refine education programs, and properly equip potential workers with skills valued and sought after by employers.

Thanks to the vision and commitment of the Workforce Talent Collaborative, Doña Ana County is already in the process of integrating the strategies outlined in this report into a connected, coordinated set of workforce development pathways aligned to eight economic development targets that could ultimately transform the future of our region by boosting the earning potential of its citizens.

The Collaborative seeks to create the alignment needed to equip those who are here now with the skills and knowledge needed to be successful in higher-paying careers and career ladders, not just jobs. So far, the collaborative has outlined the holistic development of a highly-prepared workforce in eight industries: aerospace, defense, energy, healthcare, value-added agriculture, manufacturing, transportation and logistics, and digital media. The educational assets, federal and state workforce investments, and jobs are already here. The questions are why they are not yet working together, and how do we make that happen?

A skilled and ready workforce in these eight industries will ripple across the county in an economic cascade of increased incomes and buying power, along with improving every social determinant of health that has, for far too long, been held back by the pervasiveness of poverty in our region.

What does it take for us to be successful here?  It takes the same things Carnavale’s report points to:

  • Connecting education, workforce entities and business to help individuals make better educational decisions, and therefore, investments in education and workforce preparedness
  • Helping college leadership align their programs with labor market needs
  • Create a better balance between head knowledge and hands-on skills needed to be successful in a career
  • More informed high school and college counseling to guide our youth and adult students in making the best choices in educational options and improving their likelihood for completion
  • Helping workers understand how to use education options as they build, and possibly change, their careers over time

Our ability to change the future will be directly tied to our willingness to change what we do in the present. We can unleash the economic potential of this region, while breaking the generational hold of poverty, to improve the quality of life of individuals, families, neighborhoods, communities, and the region, as a whole. And thanks to the amazing partnerships that exist among the Collaborative and throughout the community, I believe we will.