Conventional wisdom is a lost paradigm!

Published 10:29 am Wednesday, February 5, 2014

By Dr. Scott Alsobrooks

Guest Columnist 

Conventional wisdom once dictated that you went to school, earned a credential, got a good job and worked at that job for an entire career. This convention is no longer the case; the new paradigm facing career seekers is that most people will have many jobs in the course of their life. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) published a study in July 2012 that examined the number of jobs that people born in the years 1957 to 1964 held from age 18 to age 46. The average was 11.3. Another BLS published report indicated that individuals born from 1980 to 1984 held an average of 6.3 jobs from ages 18 to 25; on average, those with more education held more jobs than those with less education.

Some refer to this phenomenon as the “free agent society,” created perhaps by the fact that many businesses have outsourced certain jobs. Many manufacturing jobs have been moved to areas of the world with cheap labor. While the internet has allowed some tasks to be performed remotely via broadband technologies. And, rapidly changing technology will create the need for new skills. All of this has forced the labor market into a “swirl effect” of change over the course of the past several decades.

This swirling certainly makes it difficult for experts, or young people, to anticipate highly valued jobs of the future. This has also forced more mature workers into retooling their skills to maintain employment, or increase their earning power. Businesses that strive to keep their workforce up to date with the latest technologies have to devote resources to workforce training initiatives. Individuals must be willing to adapt, change and learn new skills.

Mississippi community colleges are training and educational institutions that are on the forefront of helping people maintain employment, update their skills and earn more money. Like the mature worker, colleges are changing and adapting to assist people with their employment goals. Colleges are interjecting educational programs with “stackable credentials” that provide learners with a portfolio of skills.

The idea behind the stackable credential approach enhances the student’s success upon entering job market. For instance, at Pearl River Community College, our team of faculty and instructional designers built a Utility Lineman Technology curriculum laced with stackable credentials. The student earns a commercial drivers license, an OSHA safety credential, and an industry recognized construction credential all while earning their degree.

These credentials were built into the curriculum because the industry desires and demands them. The benefit to the student is significant as well. The student now has many options when entering the labor market. If perhaps the job market for actual electrical line workers is tight, the student has a commercial drivers license. This can be used to pursue a host of transportation jobs until an opportunity in their chosen field can be found.

Community colleges are attempting to align education with high demand jobs. Building stackable credentials provides more avenues to employment. Conventional wisdom no longer guarantees that one will keep a job for life, the new paradigm is that job market will certainly change and students and workers will need options.

(Scott is the Vice President for Economic and Community Development at PRCC.)