Writing for Forbes Magazine, Jobs For the Future (JFF) CEO Maria Flynn points out a key problem with the 21st century economy: too many people are locked out of good jobs.
“While overall unemployment rates are low, too many jobs created in this economy are not quality jobs,” she writes. “(O)f the 164 million people in the U.S. adult labor force, 130 million face systemic barriers to advancement.”
“Just 38 million work in what we would consider quality jobs—meaning roles that not only provide a decent wage and basic benefits but also offer stability, flexibility, autonomy, and equitable opportunities for economic advancement.
That means there are currently 92 million adults shut out of quality jobs and the chance for a better life that those kinds of jobs offer.”
The reasons millions of people—nearly 100 million by Flynn’s estimate—are shut out of good jobs are manifestly unfair. They range from people not having a four-year degree to people with criminal records and prejudicial hiring practices against people of color and women.
This obviously hurts excluded individuals and groups, but it also hurts businesses that need qualified workers and the economy as a whole. Research clearly shows exclusion of populations from economic prosperity creates a drag on the economy as a whole – while opening doors to traditionally disenfranchised populations creates economic growth for everyone.
If we want the economy to grow, we need to connect more people to good jobs.
New Kinds of Jobs Can Be Accessible To More Kinds of People
Flynn believes that teaching more people about new technology is a way to include people in 21st century prosperity. She specifically cites emerging technologies like artificial intelligence and extended reality.
“While technology is likely to change the nature of many jobs, it also has the potential to create new opportunities for workers with various levels of education and training,” she writes. “According to a new JFF report it’s more likely that people will need skills they learn on the job, or maybe in short-term training programs, not four-year college degrees, to succeed in careers that involve extended reality (XR) technologies. According to that report, 40% of the more than 40,000 job postings mentioning XR or similar technologies required only a high school education or an associate’s degree. Some even had no education requirements at all.”
Our research indicates that Flynn is right: people transitioning their careers into technology, who have the right skills, can access good jobs even without traditional education credentials. As we’ve documented, employers are increasingly hiring for skills, rather than degrees – opening the door to new people who can excel in jobs but whose lives aren’t compatible with going to a traditional college.
Giving people tech skills and a path forward into tech jobs works: it supports workers, helps companies, and drives economic mobility.
Free Online Community College Can Drive Economic Growth
The key, as Flynn notes, is to “activate equity” – to make sure that “rapid technology advances don’t reinforce, or even expand, existing racial and ethnic gaps in achievement, employment, and or wealth.”
That’s why Calbright reimagines college, not just to make it more effective but to make it more equitable. We are a free, online, community college that offers training in in-demand tech skills instead of traditional degrees. All of our programs can be completed in less than a year and students study on their own schedules, on their own time. Our classes are rigorous – but we make everything about attending them easy. That level of accessibility means that Calbright is able to make these crucial tech skills available to traditionally disenfranchised populations: 90% of Calbright students identify as BIPOC, and over 90% of them are 25-and over.
At Calbright, we are proving Flynn’s point: making tech skills accessible to more people breaks down the barriers that exclude people from good jobs. It’s an approach that works.