On both local and national levels, the state of the economy is up for debate: Some highlight the strong stock market and low unemployment (4% in New York); others point to the millions left out and the growth in income inequality.
But a darkening cloud threatens us all: the skills and education crises.
In New York City, growth in technology jobs alone has increased by 80% in the last decade; most of those jobs at competitive wages require a postsecondary degree. The same applies to health care jobs. Yet far too many of these jobs go unfilled. Why?
In New York State, and while those jobs are increasing, potential workers too often fall short in education and skills.
It’s not only a problem for younger workers. For New Yorkers over 50, over 1 million risk losing their jobs due to inadequate education and skills. And data shows that only one in 10 of those over 50 who lose their jobs will even come close to current earnings in their next job—if they find one, that is.
The resulting loss in tax revenues in cities and states like New York affects us all, and lower-wage workers not only pay less in taxes but often strain the social safety net.
There are three things we can do right now.
First, focus with laserlike attention on making more high school students graduate from high school and go to college.
In New York, college completion rates for low-income students and students of color show that only two of every 10 students who register at a CUNY community college complete the two-year program in three years.
We need to integrate high school and college better, ending ineffective and costly remedial courses, and instead fund academic and career guidance programs—all focused on increasing completion rates.
Second, we need to invest in more degree pathways, from high school to college to the workplace, that are connected to higher-paying jobs and those likely to increase, such as cybersecurity and health technology. And we need to add to the mix training in problem-solving, writing and presentation.
Third, we need to invest in employers-educators collaboration.
Global Foundries, an upstate advanced manufacturer with deep connections to technology companies, has begun partnering with SUNY campuses, such as Monroe Community College, to create meaningful apprenticeships.
We have some efforts underway that are delivering concrete results. P-Tech, a grade 9 through 14 combined high school and college program, was created in New York City as a partnership between IBM and education leaders. The college completion rate at the first school, in Brooklyn, is nearly 500% higher than the national average. Now 500 companies participate in P-Tech schools, and the next state budget could expand the number of P-Tech schools.
For those currently in the workforce, we must challenge employers and government to invest time and resources in customized education. AT&T has invested over $250 million in internal programs designed to retain more of its existing workforce. While AT&T is doing this on its own, expansion to other companies offers partnership opportunities with SUNY and CUNY.
These solutions don’t require trillions of dollars and will have a high return on investment—more Americans employed at higher wages, paying more taxes, and avoiding expensive government spending on an increasingly shredding social safety net.
The skills crisis is real, and the cost of doing nothing is far greater than taking examples of success, bringing them to scale, making them sustainable and thereby investing in a more positive future.
Stan Litow is a former deputy schools chancellor for New York City and a former senior executive at IBM. He currently serves as a professor at Columbia and Duke universities.