The Need for Upskilling and Reskilling in a Time of Crisis

Postsecondary & Workforce

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As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to unfold, we have seen many changes to daily life and work. The past few months brought school and business closures along with a record number of unemployment claims. With the unemployment rate continuing upward, states may need to re-assess the needs of individuals without employment and determine how to help them reenter the workforce into good jobs as part of economic recovery.

A recent Strada Education Network survey found that 35% of respondents who lost hours or employment identified needing more skills in their current field to get a similar job, while another 34%  mentioned needing more skills to transition to a new career field. As these statistics continue to fluctuate, states can begin evaluating their economic needs and how best to connect individuals to the education and training needed for upskilling and reskilling.

One specific data point from the April 15 survey highlights a mismatch between what people want and what institutions are offering: 59% of respondents prefer non-degree programs to increase their skills base. (Specifically, 26% of those who indicated they would pursue a non-degree program stated they would pursue a certificate or license.) Further, the May 6 update found that 36% of respondents indicated they would seek out a different field of work if they lost their job, which could speak to the increased interest in non-degree credentials. Typically, these programs can be quicker to complete and may have direct pathways into the workforce. Ensuring quality and providing clear pathways into careers are important aspects to consider in non-degree credentials.

Generally speaking, quality non-degree credentials are certificates, industry certifications, occupational licenses or apprenticeship certificates that provide value to an individual and business. For a worker, quality can be indicated by their ability, with the credential, to access a good job with sustaining wages and growth potential. Whereas for businesses, quality could mean that a credential is a clear indication of specific skills and training. The two perceptions of quality are not mutually exclusive and capturing them both are key considerations within a state’s process to identify and evaluate non-degree credentials.

Creating Quality and Aligned Non-Degree Credential Pathways

State policymakers can take steps to ensure the quality of non-degree credentials by establishing processes and criteria to evaluate the credentials and ensure they are connected to career paths in high-demand fields, as highlighted in the work from Education Strategy Group. To inform and create quality, non-degree pathways, states have resources to inform and guide the process, specifically data and established groups of workforce stakeholders.

For example, Alabama established a committee within its workforce development council to bring industry and other experts together to examine and evaluate specific credentials. The state uses a set of data and criteria to determine if a credential should be included on the state’s Compendium of Valuable Credentials.

Similarly, New Jersey’s Department of Labor and Workforce Development has established a list of industry-valued credentials. The list was first established with employer input in 2018 and is reevaluated quarterly. The reevaluation of the credential list is done by senior staff from the department, plus New Jersey’s local One-Stop Career Centers and Workforce Development Boards, the state employment and training commission, department of education and secretary of higher education. As an indicator of quality to individuals seeking credentials, the department has an up-to-date public resource that details the credentials of value and the issuing agency.

While employment and economic conditions will continue to shift, states have an opportunity to support individuals in upskilling and reskilling as part of their economic recovery. By providing individuals with clear indications of what credentials are valued and of quality, those looking to reskill or upskill can select paths that support them in their future jobs. Creating quality, non-degree credential pathways is one approach to meeting both individuals’ and businesses’ needs in an evolving economy.

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Senior Project Manager at Education Commission of the States | landerson@ecs.org

In her role, Lexi oversees project management for Education Commission of the States' policy work. Lexi has more than 10 years of experience working as a higher education administrator and policy analyst, with the past five years focused on postsecondary transition policies. When Lexi is not immersed in the education policy world, she can be found running, skiing or exploring with her toddler in the mountains.

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Policy Analyst at Education Commission of the States | tkeily@ecs.org

As a policy analyst, Tom contributes to the work of the policy team on issues across the education spectrum. Prior to joining Education Commission of the States, Tom taught middle school in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Tom is dedicated to providing state policymakers with quality research that supports them in making a positive impact on students' lives.

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