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Jobs are there, for the right skills

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As the economy in Miami slowly rebounds and the outlook improves, a troubling trend has emerged that should have local policymakers, employers and residents worried. Skilled workers are increasingly in short supply and a new report from Lumina Foundation explains that the main culprit is that Miami’s postsecondary attainment rates are woefully insufficient.

According to the report, A Stronger Nation through Higher Education, 39.65 percent of working-age adults in Miami held a two- or four-year college degree in 2010, and the problem is the slow pace of improvement that’s being seen here and around the state.

If the current pace doesn’t improve, less than 43 percent of Florida’s overall adult population will hold a college degree in 2025. And that doesn’t bode well when you consider that college completion rates are soaring in places like South Korea, where a stunning 63 percent of young adults now hold a postsecondary degree. The same rate for young adults in Florida is currently at 35.8 percent. That’s a big gap.

This gulf in college attainment is a double-edged sword: it’s hampering economic recovery in the near-term, and it poses a huge threat to the region’s long-term economic health. Why? Because without college-level learning, workers simply don’t have the knowledge and skills they need to succeed in an increasingly complex global economy.

That’s why national, state and local leaders need to work together to help retool and redesign our higher education system.

College tuition has outpaced inflation for nearly three decades and the cost of a degree is now prohibitive for too many people. Local colleges and universities must streamline costs and find innovative ways to increase productivity that will allow for a substantial increase in high-quality degrees and certificates, at lower costs per degree awarded, while enhancing equity for the most underserved populations.

Higher education institutions also must become more responsive, especially to first-generation students, minorities, returning veterans and others.

One of the populations that holds the greatest promise is adults who started college but never finished. Many of these are people who are unemployed or underemployed and require new skills and training.

According to the Stronger Nation report, there are now 2,136,681 adults across Florida that have completed some college but never earned a degree. That represents 21.79 percent of the state’s adult population and many of these people are only a few courses short of graduating. If just 10 percent of these adults completed a degree or earned a high-quality credential, nearly 213,700 degree holders would be added to the state’s workforce.

With Miami’s unemployment rate still hovering above 9 percent, it might seem counterintuitive to suggest that we don’t have enough skilled workers. But, a quick scan of job classifieds in Miami shows that there are currently more than 500 open positions in the engineering, medical and technology related fields alone. Many of these positions have been open for months, but far too few local residents are prepared to fill them.

If we could better match available jobs to people with the right skills, we could increase employment at a faster pace. And that is what’s needed to accelerate the rebound of the local economy and provide a foundation for sustained job growth into the future.

Improved education attainment is the best route to economic prosperity for individuals and employers. Policymakers, business leaders and education officials must come together to make this prosperity a reality.

Kate Snedeker

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