White House Council on 'Reskilling Challenge'

July 19, 2018

A new report from the White House Council of Economic Advisers calls for an emphasis on the "reskilling" of adults in their prime working years, such as through apprenticeships or by opening up federal Pell Grants to shorter-term education programs.

"The concentration of investment in skill development and education among workers with a bachelor’s degree and those under age 25 is a strong indication that America’s reskilling effort is not optimized to address future challenges," the report concluded.

Legislative proposals for short-term Pell Grants have attracted bipartisan support, but also concerns about quality control. Pell currently cannot be used for programs that are less than 600 clock hours or 15 weeks in length. Lawmakers have suggested dropping minimum requirements to 150 hours and eight weeks. The council referenced potential problems with opening up Pell to shorter-term programs, saying they should be subject to eligibility criteria aimed at protecting quality.

The report also described an information gap between employers, workers and educational institutions about which skills employers want in job candidates.

"While employers presumably know which skills they value in an employee, workers themselves and educational institutions have less up-to-date knowledge, and their response lags behind the changing demand," according to the council. "Lacking incisive data, workers and educational institutions are separated from employers by an information gap that makes it difficult to prepare the workforce with the skills employers seek."

While President Trump has repeatedly questioned whether community colleges are fulfilling their vocational role, the report included praise for the two-year sector.

"Community colleges in partnership with local industries offer some of the most innovative reskilling programs in the United States," said the council. "These programs have the advantage of addressing a localized skills gap jointly determined by industry and education institutions in the absence of a national survey of skills gaps that would identify these specialized skills as areas of great national need."

Trump on Wednesday said he would make a major announcement this week about a work-force training initiative.

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