Opinion: Filling the skills gap

A man named Gerald Chertavian came by my office not long ago, and, by the time he left, I was filled with renewed appreciation for the potential of community colleges to help stem the decline of the middle class. There are few more urgent tasks, says Joe Nocera, op-ed columnist for the New York Times. Chertavian is not the president of a community college or even a teacher at one. Rather, he runs a program, Year Up, which he founded, that makes it possible for poor high school graduates to land good jobs. It does so, in part, by imparting important soft skills that the upper-middle-class take for granted, like how to interact with colleagues in an office setting. A second aspect of the program involves teaching marketable skills in such areas as computer support, say, or back-office work at financial firms. These are called middle-skill jobs; they require more than a high school education but less than a four-year baccalaureate degree. Thirty years ago, said Chertavian, middle-skill jobs didn’t exist. “There were jobs that required a college degree, and jobs that didn’t. Now,” he said, “up to a third of all jobs are middle-skill jobs.” Almost universally, companies complain that they can’t find enough workers to fill those jobs…

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