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Addressing the employment challenge: The use of postsecondary noncredit training in skills development

Several economic factors influence the availability of job openings and labor supply, including technological change and access to quality educational resources. One of the most important factors explaining the current disparity between available jobs and labor supply, however, has been the “skills gap,” or the difference between the skills needed for occupations and the skills workers hold. To address the skills gap, economists and policymakers have proposed improving access to–and delivery of–job training and education. While workforce skills training is structured and delivered in different formats, it typically results in some type of credential to demonstrate completion and competency. Labor market data demonstrate that nondegree credentials–that is, certificates, licenses, or industry certifications other than an associate or bachelor’s degree–add value to workers who hold them, providing them with greater earnings than those who do not possess such credentials. In some industries, the earnings premium for holding a credential is as high as the earnings premium for holding a college degree. These training programs are particularly useful because participating students are not tied to enrolling in credit-bearing programs, which usually have longer time requirements and course sequences and delay transition to the workforce. The longer time needed to complete a credit-bearing training program is particularly difficult for unemployed or low-wage workers who need enhanced earnings as quickly as possible. Nondegree credentials may be obtained through both postsecondary credit-bearing and noncredit education and training programs at a number of institutions. Given the increasing need to more effectively and quickly upskill workers for unfilled occupations, an emerging option is expanding noncredit skills training at community colleges. Community colleges are already at the forefront of noncredit skills training. The expansion of noncredit skills training at community colleges, and the factors influencing its efficacy and use, provides an important framework for policymakers to consider, especially in light of ongoing questions regarding college affordability and the return on investment of various postsecondary education alternatives.