Employer, employee benefit from short-term workforce training programs

Employer, employee benefit from short-term workforce training programs

May 23, 2024

By Jason Rochelle, Golden LEAF Program Officer

Short-term workforce training programs are defined as post-secondary programs that require fewer than two years of school and earn awards other than degrees. Such programs can provide a gateway to success, offering individuals a fast and cost-effective way to acquire new skills, advance their careers, and achieve their professional goals.

Long-term educational programs alone do not meet the needs of employers. In many industries, the number of job vacancies has increased, and positions are staying open longer, especially since the pandemic. Recent data indicates that we currently have 8.6 million job openings and only 6.5 million workers in the pipeline to fill jobs. This is a significant challenge for American businesses that is expected to continue for the foreseeable future.

In the last 15 years, the popularity of short-term training programs has grown. A 2024 article by Inside Higher Ed states, 41% of credentials awarded by community colleges across the U.S. in 2010 were short-term and non-degree certificates. By 2019, that figure had increased by 30%. In Fall 2023, the number of students pursuing short-term credentials increased by almost 10% over the previous year.

A Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas article said in the past 10 years, the number of employer job postings mentioning short-term credentials has grown. While the share of job postings seeking candidates with short-term credentials was just under 18% in 2013, it reached 30% in 2022.

Short-term training in specific career fields tends to yield a high return on investment for participants according to program level data from the U.S. Department of Education’s Colleges Scorecard. Some of the short-term programs named as yielding the highest return for students include Transportation and Materials Moving, Heavy Equipment Maintenance Technologies, Nursing, Health Diagnostics, Ground Transportation, Electrical and Power Transmission Installation, Precision Metal Working, and Environment Control Technologies.

In North Carolina, the N.C. Workforce Credentials Advisory Council, with input from reviewers from the N.C. Department of Commerce’s Labor & Economic Analysis Division, the N.C. Department of Commerce’s Division of Workforce Solutions, the N.C. Community College System, and the Department of Public Instruction, has identified priority non-degree credentials. These are credentials that are valued by employers and put those who earn them on a path to a sustainable wage career. The credentials list currently includes 165 credentials of value organized across 15 industry designations including construction, electrical, welding, manufacturing, HVAC, IT, Specialized Health Tech, Safety/Corrections, and Transportation/Distribution/Logistics.

Over the past five years, the Golden LEAF Foundation has partnered with several rural community colleges and other entities to support development of the type of short-term programs that align with the career fields cited above, culminating in completers earning third-party and industry credentials included on the N.C. Workforce Credentials list. The three Golden LEAF-funded programs described below exemplify the type of short-term training programs that may be most beneficial for employers and employees.

In August 2020, Martin Community College was awarded $111,454.80 to establish an apprentice line technician project, a short-term program focused on building electrical installation skills. Each offering of this program ran 16-18 weeks and provided students with the skills to become entry-level technicians. The college anticipated that students would secure employment with Dominion Power, Edgecombe/Martin Electric, Halifax Electric, Electric Cities, and Roanoke Electric. As of its last report submitted to Golden LEAF in June 2021, Martin Community College had exceeded its initial outcome projections, with 24 individuals enrolled and earning a third-party credential. Of those, 19 completed the program and 12 gained employment in the energy field. The program continues today independent of Golden LEAF funding, having graduated several additional cohorts to meet ongoing employer demand.

Another career field where short-term training has been shown to produce positive impacts for employers and employees is in transportation, including heavy machinery. In April 2021, Cleveland Community College was awarded $200,000 to develop a short-term Heavy Equipment Operator (HEO) training program. At the time of application, six local employers had forecasted 140-160 new HEO job openings in the next three to five years. Students who completed this new HEO training satisfied requirements to be tested by Cleveland Community College’s commercial truck driver license examiners. As of the most recent report from the grantee in 2023, the project had exceeded outcome projections, having graduated 59 individuals from the program, with most students earning one or more of the credentials on N.C.’s list of credentials most valued by employers. A real-life testimonial recently provided by a HEO program graduate speaks to the value of this program.

Most recently, in February 2023, Golden LEAF awarded $500,000 to Coastal Carolina Community College (CCCC) to address a local shortage of welders, another career field where short-term training has been found to be of mutual benefit to employers and employees. With Golden LEAF funding this grantee developed an intensive eight-week welding series with participants earning industry credentials sufficient to secure entry-level welding positions. As a component of this project, the CCCC is also partnering with Onslow County Schools to enhance the school district’s existing facilities to train more high school students in welding. After the initial time required to upfit the program, the grantee provided an update on its initial four months of implementation. In that limited time, CCCC reported there had already been 37 program completers, with 28 of those completers earning welding industry credentials on the N.C.’s employer valued credentials list. CCCC is currently gathering data on post-completion employment, but this program already appears to be one which will ensure participants are getting a solid return on their investment, while also ensuring that employers are getting skilled workers with the credentials most important to them.

Short-term workforce training programs can serve as a powerful tool for economic advancement, enabling program participants to secure essential skills at a low commitment of time and money, while meeting employers’ needs for valuable credentials that can be earned through these programs. The benefits of such programs to employees and employers appear to be especially strong among specific career fields. Given the value of short-term training, Golden LEAF’s support in such programs in rural communities will have a profoundly positive impact on the trajectory of North Carolina’s economy.

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