Policymakers can support alignment between employers and higher education systems to ensure that credentials and degrees are applicable to state workforce needs.
According to a recent report, “57% of U.S. employees are either actively seeking or open to a new job.” However, the number of available positions currently exceeds the number of unemployed Americans. A 2019 study estimates that by 2029, the United States could face a shortage of about 765,000 workers needing some college and about 8.6 million workers needing at least a bachelor’s degree. Another study predicts that the United States could lose about $1.7 trillion in revenue by 2030 due to labor shortages.
This workforce gap cannot be filled by traditional students alone. Due to a drop in birth rates after the Great Recession, it is expected that the college-age population in the United States will decrease by approximately 15% between 2025 and 2029, with additional decreases in the following years. Working adult learners are uniquely positioned to fill the workforce gap because many of them desire career advancement and need further training. While taking postsecondary courses is an important step, it is not enough. A recent report on working adult learners states, “A higher education experience that doesn’t help working adult students achieve better alignment with their career goals isn’t serving them.”
To ensure that all learners are prepared for current and future job markets, policymakers must support efforts that align educational offerings with workforce needs. Successful programs for working adult learners, particularly rising and stranded talent, embed career connections into each step of the learning process. In-demand and job-specific skills are integrated into all courses, internships and apprenticeships give students hands-on training, and out-of-class support and resources are easily accessible. In addition, program elements are developed in tandem with employers and industry representatives who understand the skills and experiences needed in the workforce.