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When Living Wage Jobs Are Out of Reach

 The New York Times this week highlighted a challenge facing employers and potential employees alike: well-paying jobs in manufacturing and trades today require a higher-skilled workforce than they did in the past. With the integration of increasingly sophisticated computer technology into factories, repair shops and construction, the knowledge of the workforce must keep up.

The Times article, Wanted: Factory Workers, Degree Required, notes that when Siemens Energy opened a plant near Charlotte, NC, there were more than 10,000 applicants for 800 jobs, “[b]ut fewer than 15 percent of the applicants were able to pass a reading, writing and math screening test geared toward a ninth-grade education.”

 The real problem is not that potential workers have not had the technical training required for living wage jobs, it is that the training itself requires levels of education that many low-income jobseekers have not attained. According to the National Skills Coalition, a workforce research and advocacy organization, “More than half of all jobs (54%) in the US today are middle-skill jobs that require more than a high school diploma, but not a four-year degree. Many of these jobs pay family-sustaining wages and are in growing fields. Yet only 44% of workers are trained to the middle-skill level.”

The Times article traces the history of skilled labor and apprenticeship programs in the U.S. and highlights several current initiatives aimed at building a more skilled workforce. For example, employers like Siemens and John Deere are teaming with local community colleges to create programs that provide students with both the academic knowledge and the technical skills needed to enter those companies with middle-skill jobs upon program completion. These graduates earn upwards of $40,000 annually from the start of their employment.

 LISC has its own initiative to work with community colleges to provide basic academic skills that will ready participants for technical training. Called Bridges to Career Opportunities, the program is being expanded to 30 markets across the country. We will explore this program in depth in an upcoming article.

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