Can Alternative Education Save The US Job Market?

alternative education job market
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Major indicators of the US job market have pointed to a potentially alarming trend in the last few months: A mismatch between open positions and skilled workers. Essentially, while employers are creating jobs and workers are taking jobs, there’s still a fundamental skills gap that exists. According to reports from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Labor Department, employees are looking for jobs with higher wages (in large part to keep up with inflation and increases in housing costs), but employers are hesitant to pay more for workers they perceive as lacking in skills. But with student debt tipping the scales at over $1 trillion, college no longer seems to be the most fiscally-savvy route to a high-paying job.

So what is a worker to do to improve their skill level, thus improving their wages, without digging into debt?

Enter apprenticeships, trade schools, and other forms of alternative education, which are cropping up left and right in the hope of closing the gap.

Unlike unpaid internships, which largely utilize college students, are often borderline or legitimately illegal, and don’t seem to be turning out a more skilled class of worker, apprenticeships pay adult workers adult wages, create loyal, adept employees that are worth the investment for companies, and are more able to improve their income level year over year. One report found that investing in apprenticeship programs could increase the lifetime earnings and benefits of a worker by an average of $300,000.

The Obama Administration has called for more companies to adopt or expand this kind of on-the-job training, and private companies and nonprofits alike have answered the call. But that’s just one possible solution.

Alternative education, including technical and trade schools, online eduction (a subject that we are, of course, unabashedly biased when discussing), and improved community education by cities and municipalities are springing up to help fill the gap and answer the call. But rather than focusing on manufacturing and other jobs that traditionally composed the middle-class, alternative education programs are teaching everything from copywriting to coding.

“The shortage of qualified data professionals demonstrates the clear need to offer degree programs that provide training in advanced technical skills with an understanding of how to meet industry needs in practice,” write Jim Deters and Daniel Pianko for Forbes. Deters is the CEO of Galvanize, which hosts an accredited program through the University of New Haven. At Galvanize, students learn those crucial skills that may not be at the focus of traditional college curricula, but are essential in the workforce, like coding and data science.

There are also programs like the Flatiron School, which offer immersive web development courses and training and hope to bridge not just the skills gap, but also address the STEM field’s noted diversity problem, which is often attributed to the narrow pipeline into jobs in math, science, and engineering.

Even giant companies which have traditionally been viewed as the purview of low-skill workers like Starbucks are investing in online and distance learning for their employees. The reason? It pays for employers to have skilled workers, and, moreover, it pays for employers to know that there are enough workers in the world making enough money to have some spending cash. More education is basically better for every step of the economic ladder.

This kind of skills training puts workers in greater control of their hiring and earning potential, which also makes alternative education attractive to the rising class of solo entrepreneurs and freelancers who, seeing the lagging wages of the traditional job market and craving a break from the open office plan (formerly cubicle nation) have set out on their own. With the ability to pick up skills – whether it’s personal finance, graphic design, or WordPress development – at their own convenience, the breakout of a different face of education might not be what old-school labor economists expected, but it’s definitely right in line with job market where everything is on demand and the worker’s best interest rules.

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Hanna Brooks Olsen is a writer and editor for CreativeLive, longtime reporter, and the co-founder of Seattlish. Follow her on Twitter at @mshannabrooks or go to her website for more stuff.