America faces a desperate shortage of workers with the skills and training to do the jobs that keep the economy and the country going, including jobs in healthcare, clean energy, IT, construction, and other vital industries. For the millions of people who are now unemployed or underemployed due to COVID-19 and the economic recession, these jobs can be safe havens, offering good wages and long-term stability. They also provide smart career options for high school students who aren’t interested in, or can’t afford, a four-year degree. 

Community colleges have long provided custom-designed workforce development centered on the needs of business and industry. Short-term credit and noncredit programs that lead to industry-recognized credentials, certifications, and licensures are more critical than ever, both to businesses with jobs to fill and to people who need a faster path to a substantial paycheck. 

According to the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC, 2020), community colleges awarded 579,822 certificates in 2017-2018. More than four-year degrees, these certificates, as well as other nondegree credentials, power the workforce America needs now. For workers whose industries have been decimated, they open the door to a job that will remain in high demand for the next decade and beyond. 

The return on investment is often significant. AACC (2020) reports that the average annual tuition and fees for public community colleges stand at just $3,730. Median annual wages in the skills-based professions range from $44,890 for a solar photovoltaic installer to $54,760 for a computer support specialist, with the highest paid earning much more. And students who land apprenticeships earn while they continue to learn.

Anne Arundel Community College in Maryland is one institution leading the workforce development charge. In addition to more than 100 credit degrees and certificates, it offers noncredit courses in everything from coding to welding to dental assisting, along with four-year apprenticeship training programs developed in conjunction with organizations such as Associated Builders and Contractors and Maryland Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors Association.

Another leader, Mesa Community College in Arizona offers more than 30 programs and over 100 degrees and certificates. Career and technical education programs created with the input of local professionals train students for in-demand jobs such as robotics technician, engine mechanic, construction manager, Amazon Web Services practitioner, desktop support specialist, and firefighter.

One challenge to meeting the current need for skills-based workers is getting new skillers and reskillers to see the possibilities. In many cases, these careers are not on their radar. If they are, the steps to getting a job are often unclear. 

Countless businesses and other organizations are stepping in to showcase the opportunities and light the path. Online platforms such as SkillPointe, a one-stop resource designed to help people explore career options and find training and jobs in their area, are promoting skills-based professions and making it easier to find training and, ultimately, employment. SkillPointe’s career pages allow users to research more than 70 trending careers across eight industries. In addition, a database of more than 50,000 training programs helps users to quickly and easily identify a program near them that paves the way to the career they want. Taking the mystery out of these careers, and the guesswork out of how to enter them, can point more people to community colleges, not to mention worthwhile jobs. 

While community college is a good bargain, it’s not free. SkillPointe also assists users in finding funding for the training they need. An increasing number of scholarships are available to make trades training more affordable, such as mikeroweWORKS Foundation’s Work Ethic Scholarship Program, AWS Foundation Scholarships for students learning welding, and coming in 2021, the SkillPointe Scholarship.

Community colleges are working hard to beat the clock and train new workers for fast-growing, skills-based jobs before more baby boomers retire and bottom lines—or public health and safety—suffer. These programs, along with resources like SkillPointe that help people discover them, provide a lifeline for displaced workers and a launching pad for prospective students looking to sidestep the quicksand of college debt. They are critical to building the skilled workforce America needs today and tomorrow to do the jobs that will keep America moving, and keep Americans employed.


American Association of Community Colleges. (2020). Fast facts 2020.

James Franchi

CEO, SkillPointe

The League for Innovation and SkillPointe are partnering to connect users to more than 55,000 member college training programs and working with community colleges to promote their programs to potential students. For more information, contact Jennifer Gravel.


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