ACC Expands Career ACCelerator Program
JPMorgan Chase & Co. has donated $250,000 to fund scholarships for adult students entering ACC’s Career ACCelerator Program—combining instruction with financial assistance, support services, and paid internships to help adults train for high-demand occupations. The Chase donation will fund scholarships for 100 students. “Creating a hands-on learning experience that gives our disadvantaged neighbors an opportunity to ‘earn while they learn’ is something JPMorgan Chase supports with great enthusiasm,” says Joe Holt, JPMorgan Chase Austin Region chairman. “This innovative program creates a wider on-ramp to good-paying jobs.”
ACC’s Career ACCelerator Program initially focuses on addressing Central Texas’ substantial and growing information technology sector. More than 9,000 area job openings require computer or IT skills, according to the Austin Chamber of Commerce. “It’s important that we expand the pipeline of skilled workers in our region,” says Dr. Richard Rhodes, ACC president and CEO. “By joining our efforts and resources through community partnerships and the support of organizations like Chase, we can help more Central Texans transition into promising careers.” The Career ACCelerator program is an extension of ACC’s collaboration with Capital IDEA on its Career Expressway initiative. After launching in fall 2015 with 30 students, spring participation in the program more than doubled. “This is my third semester in the program and it has made a huge difference in my life,” says Michael Brown, Career ACCelerator student.
“I’m getting to go to college, when normally I wouldn’t be able to afford it. I am learning how to become a local area network administrator, essentially getting the skills I need for my future career.”
January 2017 Update
By Dan Zehr – American-Statesman Staff
Posted: 12:00 a.m. Saturday, January 28, 2017
The middle class has taken a beating the past couple decades. Not only have some of its mainstay occupations disappeared – automated away by robots, computers and other technological advancements – the skill requirements for most of the remaining jobs have soared.
Not that long ago, a high school diploma would at least open a door to a middle-wage job. Now, entry-level admission often begins with a college certificate or degree — even if the skills behind the credential don’t match the job’s actual requirements.
So here are the middle class workers of Texas, stuck in a tightening vise. Even though they’re more educated than they’ve ever been — the percentage with at least some college training jumped to 63 percent in 2015 from 23 percent in 1979 — the share of occupations in the state’s two middle-wage quartiles each shrank more than 10 percent over that 35-year span. The resulting job polarization has left more Texan and American workers with two options, according to a new report from the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas and the Austin-based Center for Public Policy Priorities. Either get more training so they qualify for the new middle- and high-skill occupations, or settle for a lower-wage job. “Nowadays, the rungs are stretched out,” said Elizabeth Sobel Blum, the report’s co-author and senior adviser for community development at the Dallas Fed. “Our arm length is the same, but the rungs are farther apart, so you have to work that much harder to get into the middle class and stay in the middle class.” That becomes even more difficult when education and workforce training programs don’t align with industry needs, Sobel Blum and her co-authors said. They reviewed some of the country’s most successful workforce development programs and then surveyed the 28 regional workforce boards in Texas to see how they stacked up. To successfully prepare workers for the today’s occupations, they concluded, the state’s regional workforce systems ought to do three things: identify the clusters of industry that drive the local economy; forge broad partnerships with business leaders at the helm; and build and strengthen career pathways. Each task seems obvious enough on its own, and most of the workforce systems in Central Texas and around the state incorporate them to varying degrees. But none have ramped up all three elements to their full potential, the authors said. “When regional workforce development systems fully integrate these elements,” the report said, “they are building world-class regional talent pipelines.”
It doesn’t make much sense to train someone for jobs that are in short supply and aren’t likely to grow in the future. So first, regions should identify the interrelated clusters of companies and industries that provide a solid base of jobs now and are likely to remain stable or expand in the future.
Austin workforce experts do a reasonable job of this already, and some of that prior analysis made its way into this report. Government, the University of Texas and the technology industry—each of which include companies that share similar supply chains, labor pools and other infrastructure — underpin a huge swath of the region’s middle- and high-skill jobs. However, looking at these clusters doesn’t mean much when preparing an individual student for a specific job. Regions must then look within those high-activity clusters to identify what a previous Fed-system study called “opportunity occupations” – those that pay a wage at or above the national media and require less than a four-year degree. More than a quarter of Austin metro area’s jobs are opportunity occupations, the report said. For example, electrical and electronics engineering technicians need to have an associate degree, but as of 2015 they earned almost $31 an hour, and there were more than 4,500 of them in the metro area.
The fields in which middle-class jobs exist have shifted from tasks such as assembly and clerical occupations to more technical tasks. Of Austin’s 10 opportunity occupations noted in the report, seven were technician or information-technology jobs, such as web developers. Many of these occupations didn’t even exist a decade ago, and workforce systems and educators have struggled to keep up with the changes. In a rapidly changing workplace, the report said, industry needs to step forward and play a greater role in helping shape training programs, the report said.
True sector partnerships are led by employers and, first and foremost, intended to meet the needs of employers, said Tamara Atkinson, executive director of Workforce Solutions Capital Area. “We don’t have that in that form yet in Austin,” Atkinson said. “Other communities have gone before us. They’re only a few steps before us, but they’re before us.” While regulations require consultation between industry and community and technical colleges, educators typically shape the programs and bring them to businesses. The supply side leads the process, said Garrett Groves, a co-author on the report and the Center for Public Policy Priorities’ economic opportunity program director. “At some point,” Groves said, “we need to connect with the demand side a lot better than we had in the past.” This has occurred in isolated cases throughout the state, but almost solely in response to acute labor shortages or other pressures that force employers to act, Groves said. Getting a business leader to step away from their office and spend a day or two designing curricula for students who might never work for them is difficult, even if it likely helps faster industry and regional growth as a whole. As Atkinson noted, “This would call for a pipeline whereby employers see the need to engage with community education and workforce development entities over the long term.”
These pipelines would create a more robust and more nimble training network that offers employers the talent they need and offer students and workers a pathway to the new middle-class occupations of today and tomorrow. Businesses “want to hire the best candidate,” Groves said. “But locally, part of our objective should be to provide talent that can compete with anyone. Are we missing out on some growth because we’re missing that talent?”
A relatively new program coordinated by Austin Community College and Capital IDEA has set out to produce more of that high-demand local talent. The Career Accelerator, which enrolled almost 80 students in the fall semester, combines a streamlined curriculum, support for students and real-life work experience.
“We’re trying to get them into the industry earlier,” said David Borden, the program’s director at ACC. “So when they graduate, instead of having one semester experience, they may have a year or two years of industry experience.” For now, the Career Accelerator targets just a few opportunity occupations in computer- and network-support fields. But ACC and Capital IDEA already are designing the next program for opportunity occupations in health care.
But it’s one thing to set educators to set up the pathway, said Steve Jackobs, director of Capital IDEA. It’s another to get businesses to help design it, to participate in it with internships and to have those graduates in mind as potential job candidates.
“Industry needs to do it, but someone has to intervene,” Jackobs said. “They’ll have to see their competitors are doing this and beating them at their game, but there has to be an active intermediary first.”