Workforce needs creative solutions for 21st century economy

By Sam Caucci
Colleges need to be held accountable for overcharging students for degrees that do not lead to learning or more importantly, jobs. File Photo by John Angelillo/UPI
Colleges need to be held accountable for overcharging students for degrees that do not lead to learning or more importantly, jobs. File Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo

July 11 (UPI) -- The presidential election season is off and running, so you know what that means: It's time for candidates and politicians to hit the media circuit with ideas that either make you scratch your head or wonder how their plan can really work.

A hot topic centers on our jobs and our workforce.


In these areas, we have candidates talking about free college education and even about forgiving all prior college loan debt. We even have candidates claiming they will cut checks to folks so they can personally reinvest it in their own job training. The problem is these "solutions" just cause more problems.

I am not just picking on politicians for the fun of it. Let's look at the facts.

Today's workforce is different, with 55 percent of the U.S. workforce made up of millennials or Generation Z by 2020. This new workforce is coming of age at a time when the jobs they are performing are changing faster than ever and the education being used to prepare people for work is failing. A recent study of CEOs by Gallup found the number 1 risk to businesses today are workers that aren't ready to work on day 1. Colleges are also continuing to be part of the problem, and public sentiment agrees that colleges are failing at preparing graduates for jobs in the 21st century economy.


This is all happening despite record low unemployment, a strong economy and even given the reality that employee turnover can crush a business. Our fight for talent is real.

It is now that we need action and solutions that drive business and create opportunities for workers to succeed on the job. It is not the time for more of the same old talking points around our jobs and our workforce.

Unfortunately, all I am seeing are ideas that make no sense, ideas that are short-sighted and disconnected from how we can really solve big problems. Just turn on the television and you will hear politicians and presidential candidates pitching ideas that create more problems for our workforce. Here are a couple:

Sen. Kamala Harris just announced a plan to close the workforce skills gap by cutting a check to American workers in hopes that they will use it to invest in a job training program. Sounds simple, but it's incomplete.

A proposal that believes just cutting a check to a worker (between $4,000 and $8,000, depending on employment status) to reinvest in their own up-skilling is a lousy idea. It shows a lack of respect for how serious the job skills gap is and how serious of a challenge it is for companies. Also, individuals aren't in a position to decide what skills they really need and to properly evaluate which provider (community college, online program, etc.) is qualified and reputable.


Re-skilling programs offered over the last 20 years (research proves) are largely ineffective at making any sizable impact on skill development. This alone cannot be how we tackle this problem.

Instead, we need more ideas to benefit and motivate companies to reinvest in people. We need more ideas to incentivize companies that choose to invest in new technology and employee engagement programs for all employees. For example, a real problem with the state of today's workforce is that 83 cents of every dollar goes to the top 20 percent of a company's workforce. Meaning most of the workers at risk of displacement by automation, robots and artificial intelligenceI are getting no access at a time when their jobs are at risk.

We need big ideas to solve big problems. Not more of the same.

Another proposal comes from Sen. Bernie Sanders. His idea was even more extreme and centered on erasing all current student loan debt.

This plan is even crazier when you look at it from all angles. At the end of the day, it sends the wrong message and incentivizes the wrong things. It tells colleges it is okay to continue to sell outdated degrees. It fails to hold colleges accountable for overcharging students for degrees that do not lead to learning or more importantly, jobs.


And more, it doesn't even solve the real problem as the majority of those that benefit don't need the benefit. One-third of college debt is owned by families in the top 25 percent income bracket. It also sends the wrong message to our youth, that we will bail you out for something you invested in. That's not a message that we should be sending.

I am not against correcting or bailing out employees that got ripped off. I'm saying, let's not just give it away. Let's come up with a creative way to make them earn it. Let's tie the payoff of the degree to their job success, community work or some other action that gives our future leaders the opportunity to earn their waiver and not just get a handout.

Finally, and most importantly, we should fix this problem, not just kick the can down the road.

Colleges that fail to hit key job placement numbers should have access to federal student loan dollars stripped. When we remove access to federal loan dollars to colleges based on their poor job placement metrics we will let the market decide which colleges should close and which should grow. Let's close the colleges that are failing. Instead of colleges worrying about their bottom line and selling the same outdated curriculum decade after decade, let's hold them accountable. Let's make sure colleges deliver on their promise of preparing students for jobs in today's workforce, because in 2019, most colleges are getting a failing grade.


It's good to hear plans and proposals from politicians and candidates from both sides, but let's make sure they make sense and are not just gimmicks to get votes. Let's come up with creative solutions that actually will help college graduates and the American workforce succeed in a 21st century economy.

The time for games and giving stuff away for free is over and fails us all. Let's empower our graduates and our workforce with real solutions to our country's real problems.

Sam Caucci is founder and CEO of workforce training platform 1HUDDLE and author of "Not Our Job: How College Has Destroyed a Generation of Workers and How to Fix It."

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