Education is the ticket up

As a former human resources professional, I have read a lot of resumes and job applications and helped make a myriad of decisions about whom to hire. Many times the decision was difficult because there were plenty of qualified prospects and any one of the finalists could do the job well.

But, increasingly, employers are struggling to find qualified employees. They’re looking to hire individuals with strong educational backgrounds and sound technical skills. Oftentimes today, if an applicant doesn’t have a credential or a 2-year or 4-year degree, he or she doesn’t even get considered. If you’re applying for jobs online, web sites ask for your educational background. If you don’t have a post-high school education, you often aren’t even shown certain job opportunities. The door is closed.

Employers are not to be blamed. While good businesses invest in continuous training of their employees, they can’t be expected to educate workers from the ground up. That’s time-consuming and costs too much, especially for small businesses.

That’s why a push is on in Ohio to encourage young and older workers alike who don’t have a credential or 2-year or 4-year college degree to go back to school. The state’s Complete to Compete campaign has a goal that by 2025, 65 percent of all working-age adults will have a degree or credential. We’re a long way from hitting that mark. We’re just under 45 percent right now.

This is not a numbers game. Policy makers are simply acknowledging reality: Employers locate and add new jobs where they can find qualified workers. A high-school education or some college just isn’t enough — at least not for jobs that pay salaries that support a family.

One fact that gets bandied about a lot — and for good reason — is this: Workers with an associate’s degree earn $200,000 more over their lifetimes, while those with bachelor’s degrees earn on average $800,000 more. This is according to Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce.

Not everyone needs a 4-year degree. There are good-paying jobs in the skilled trades if you have a credential and in some businesses that require only a 2-year degree.

One thing we should all be concerned with is that tens of thousands of Ohioans started working on a credential or a degree, but stopped-out. They had to quit because they ran out of money, or they couldn’t keep up with their responsibilities at home and at school. These so-called “stopped-out” students are just a few semesters or courses away from being eligible for jobs that probably pay more and are more secure. Nudging these individuals can sometimes be all that it takes to give them the mindset and courage to return.

But sometimes they need a hand up. Maybe they need help getting an old transcript or paying a fine that prevents them from re-enrolling. (This latter problem is more common than you would think.) Maybe they need to cut their hours at work or work different hours but are concerned that it might negatively affect their employment. Employers should be encouraging their employees and helping them understand how their efforts to complete their degree can pay off, paving the way for better pay or a promotion.

Our community will only be as economically successful as workers are at getting the skills and knowledge they need to help their employers compete. Education is the ticket up — to a better life for individuals and for us as a region.

Molly Seals is a trustee at Youngstown State University and was formerly the Vice President of Human Resources Program Delivery for Mercy Health-Ohio.