With colleges not producing enough grads with necessary skills, companies look elsewhere

U.S. colleges aren't producing enough graduates with the skills companies need. So corporations are partnering with community colleges and alternative credentialing programs to build worker pipelines.

Driving the news: Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam announced on Friday that a cloud computing degree program developed with Amazon Web Services will be expanded to colleges statewide in Virginia, where the company has major data center operations.


The big picture: Higher education institutions are under increasing pressure to prove the market value of degrees and credentials — immediately and in the long-term.

  • Steven Partridge, Northern Virginia Community College's vice president for strategic partnerships and workforce innovation, says they and other institutions are trying to create "a spigot" of workers tuned to local markets.

What's happening: Tech companies in particular are helping design curriculums to ensure students graduate with the exact skills they need to walk directly into jobs.

  • In Phoenix, 10 community colleges are working with Intel, Boeing, Apple and Cisco to teach specific skills so students can immediately work in emerging fields such as autonomous driving and blockchain-related businesses.
  • IBM has partnered with 19 community colleges to review curriculums, provide in-class expertise and apprenticeships to prepare students for "new collar" jobs in areas like cloud computing, cybersecurity and mainframes. It also created "P-TECH," a 6-year program that offers a high school diploma and associates degree, in 20 schools.
  • Siemens is adding about a dozen new schools each year to its "mechatronics" certification programs to teach students skills needed for advanced manufacturing.
  • Facebook, Tableau and others are creating co-branded certificates with community colleges through startup Pathstream.
"It's not just about the technical aspects. People need the soft skills, like how to collaborate, work on teams to solve a problem and adapt to change. These are things community colleges are well equipped to do."
Diane Gherson, IBM chief human resources officer

Alternative programs like those offered through coding bootcamp Lambda School are built around the skills Google, Amazon, Microsoft and others say they are seeking in employees.

  • Lambda School CEO Austen Allred says their programs can keep pace with technological changes in ways traditional higher education institutions can't.

By the numbers: There are 7.2 million open jobs in the U.S. and 6 million unemployed Americans, per the Labor Department.

  • The U.S. has more than 700,000 open technology jobs, but universities are producing only about one-tenth that number of computer science graduates.
  • 67% of the adult population does not have a bachelor's degree.
  • "We’re not doing a good job helping people understand what jobs are out there and what skills they need for that job," said Accenture North America CEO Jimmy Etheredge.

Yes, but: A bachelor's degree is still the gold standard for economic mobility today.

Go deeper: Training unlikely techies