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Closing the Middle Skills Gap: Aligning Community College Workforce Programs with Employer Needs

Christian R Lund, Johnson & Wales University


Many middle skills jobs and career opportunities are currently unfilled in the United States due to a lack of qualified candidates (Rios-Aguilar, et al., 2019). Federal laws mandate individual state workforce boards, consisting of employers and government and education officials, manage workforce training and education policies and practices at the local level. There is a wide variation in the levels of success being achieved by states towards closing the gap between eligible candidates and available job openings (Giloth, 2020).This study’s purpose was to identify best practices being utilized by workforce organizations to close the middle skills gap. This study focused on state higher education and workforce professionals and their practices used to ensure community colleges offer programs that meet employer needs. This study was guided by the following research question: How do stakeholders describe the ways they align community college degree curricula, workforce training, and credential programs with the workforce needs of employers?A qualitative descriptive study was undertaken using interviews (N=10) and document analysis of relevant state workforce training and education policy documents (N=30). Utilizing this approach, one member from each of four stakeholder groups from three states representing different United States Census regions was interviewed. Document analysis was conducted on relevant workforce development documents from each interviewee’s state program. Interview and document data were analyzed using the thematic strategies of Boyatzis (1998).Five themes emerged from integrated data: systemic partnerships, data are critical, new programs and approaches, strategic planning and decision making, and the value of committed leadership. These findings suggest 1) generally accepted management practices are used in addressing the skills gap, 2) stakeholders are using new and existing programs to maximize the credentials of value being issued, and 3) partnerships must be addressed, managed, and conducted in a systematic manner .The results of this study may identify successful workforce development organizations and best practices that could be emulated or adopted by other practitioners nationwide. These practices may be used to provide additional tools to aid in the training and education of prospective employees to fill gaps in middle skills occupations in other states.

Subject Area

Adult education|Educational administration|Education Policy|Community college education

Recommended Citation

Lund, Christian R, "Closing the Middle Skills Gap: Aligning Community College Workforce Programs with Employer Needs" (2021). Dissertation & Theses Collection. AAI28773144.