The cruel fact is, if you do what you’ve always done, you will get what you always had or even less, never more. If you recruit students as you always have, you will get a consistent decline in enrollment. If you hire technical college graduates as you always have, then you should expect to perpetuate the shortage of skilled labor. Humans are creatures of habit. We often reinforce behavior patterns through practice. Practices that bring good results are often perpetuated and continued reinforcement brings about addiction to these practices. Many colleges appear to be addicted to recruiting practices of the past. Also, many employers seem to be addicted to the traditional ways of employing a labor force. Many potential employees are addicted to obsolete ways of preparing for work.
Many who have been responsible for recruitment in higher education became addicted to decades of success; starting with recruiting the greatest generation at the end of World War II and the Korean Conflict. Our profession continued these practices as we recruited baby boomers and finally through generation X. You may ask yourself, why would I want to change something that has historically worked and yielded good results? The GI Bill, PELL Grant, Federal Student Loans, HOPE Grants, High School Dual Enrollment, and HOPE Scholarships expanded the potential pool of Georgians ready to receive higher education. We concentrated on recruiting the youngest eligible Georgians because they had the longest period to work and because they were the easiest to locate. They were either at their parents’ home or in high school.
Eventually, we were presented with a dilemma. We began to run low on high school students and new graduates. Then came the millennials, small in numbers but with a belief that everything is negotiable. The resources required to recruit younger students begin to yield diminishing returns. Majority of institutions found themselves working harder and not smarter. Energy expended to recruit younger students provided less marginal utility. Eventually, the energy spent to recruit the younger students actually created a decline in total enrollment.
I’m not advocating ending the recruitment of millennials. They are very fine people. There’s just not enough of them to go around to meet the demands of enrollment and graduate placement in order to fill increasing industry needs. However, I am advocating a change to our college’s recruitment paradigm. I’m advocating for increased recruitment of underprepared generation X’ers. I’m advocating for a change in instructional delivery methods to make it easier for older students to attend college and progress to graduation. I’m advocating a shift in some of the recruitment focus. Most importantly, I’m advocating for paid apprenticeships and internships.
Many of the employers in my community often inform me that Albany Tech’s graduates perform at a high level. Next, they inform me that they can’t locate an adequate number of technically educated graduates. I often lament with them. They often ask why Albany Technical College can’t recruit adequate numbers of high school students and/or graduates to meet their needs? We should inform area employers that the quality of the educational attainment of high school graduates has improved but the number of high school graduates will likely continue to decline. The number of high school students available for graduation in 2020 will decline because the number of live births in 2002 declined. Each public high school in the seven of the eight counties served by Albany Tech has a smaller enrollment than five years ago. One public high school closed. Increasing the number of high school graduates can only be achieved by immigration or continued increases in retention. That’s not likely to happen in the short run.
What can be done to remedy the current challenges?
My first suggestion to employers is to extend the interview/screening period from one hour to one year. Employ the students who are more likely to succeed as soon as they enroll at a technical college. Employ them as paid apprentices. Assign them to a mentor. Indoctrinate them into your organization’s corporate culture. Encourage veterans to seek college credit for prior learning experiences. Colleges and employers should allow applicants to document as many credits from prior learning experiences as feasible. Make continuing education and completion a condition of continued employment. Make graduation a condition of permeant employment. I predict that paid apprenticeships are the mousetraps that will cause the workforce to beat a path to the employer’s doorsteps.
My second suggestion is that we encourage young as well as not so young adults who are marginally prepared to train for better opportunities. If needed, encourage them to earn a GED or High School Equivalency while simultaneously acquiring job skills. Those who have good jobs should train for great careers. Those who are underemployed should train for better jobs. Those who do not have jobs should prepare to enter the workforce through education. Those without a basic education should earn a GED while joint enrolling in workforce education.
Albany Technical College must recruit from and support the underprepared older student prospects. This should be done as we continue to recruit millennials. Employers should when feasible, offer paid apprenticeships and internships as encouragement to the better students. Underprepared students must be prepared to go the extra distance to achieve the best results. The hardest habits to break are those that once brought success.