Middle-Skills Jobs in Demand; What Maryland education systems are doing to help

What is always said about college? “You can’t get a good job without a college degree.” And while Michael Thomas, director of the Baltimore City Public School’s Office of Learning to Work, has tried vehemently to put college on city school kids’ radar, he also knows middle-skill jobs are the ones most in demand now.

Through research, Thomas found the majority of jobs in demand are considered middle-skill level, meaning graduates need more than a high school diploma but less than a four-year degree to qualify for the jobs available. Thomas’ initiative to attack this was to encourage industry certifications aligning with his Career and Technology Education program, which brings students up to speed and prepared for careers.

CTE programs offer students dual-credit programs, where they can attend college courses and be assimilated into that environment while simultaneously earning credits for high school and college. It also offers the industry-recognized certifications, which prepare them to head straight to the job market. The students in CTE programs are challenged with rigorous and concentrated content that aligns with not only industry standards, but also with academic programs.

Thomas, speaking on behalf of Baltimore City schools, shared his findings with the GBC’s Education & Workforce Committee Dec. 1 along with Martha Smith, president of Anne Arundel County Community College. Both told what their schools are doing to put students into available jobs as quickly as possible with the knowledge base and experience they will need to succeed.

Smith deals with the same issues as Thomas, but with people who have vastly different needs. Taking into account adult learners are the fastest growing population at community colleges and the average age of a student at Anne Arundel is 27-28 years old, Smith works to offer programs to meet the needs of businesses and also of the individuals she serves.

The “community” part of community college is very important to Smith, which is why she is creating programs that reflect the needs of the community, including finding ways to get people more “up-skilled” while working at their current jobs. She needs help from the business community in terms of flexibility for individuals seeking higher education that perhaps don’t have the time or the resources for completing a degree in a traditional fashion, sometimes at all.

Smith recently received two grants: a $20 million one for 10 community colleges in nine states to develop one-year certifications that are nationally-portable in STEM-related disciplines, and a $5 million one for Career Pathways to Cybersecurity, training 1,000 individuals to find cybersecurity jobs, partly funds tuition assistance.

Both said small businesses need to assist in having jobs available for students coming out with these specialized skill sets as well as continuing to let the schools know what they are in need of so Smith and Thomas can continue to create programs that meet the needs of the students and their future employers.

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