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College- or Career-ready

As they continue their education or enter the workforce, young people need access to skills and training that enable them to secure and maintain gainful employment with a living wage.

For most, the goal after high school is to secure a job that will provide income and serve as the starting point for a career. Some enter the workforce immediately after high school, while others continue their education in college or pursue a credential. Many people continue their education and work at the same time. However, too many residents in this region are falling behind on that journey and finding themselves without the skills or training needed to secure and maintain a job.

While there are many routes to take, the goal is the same. Without a stable job and sustainable income, residents will struggle to maintain financial stability and provide a safe and healthy living environment for themselves and their families.

The labor market participation rate gives the fullest, clearest picture of the number of adults in our region who have jobs. Compared to the unemployment rate, which accounts only for adults seeking employment, the labor market participation rate factors in the total adult population.

The path to a self-sustaining job begins with a high school diploma, but it does not end there. Adults with at least a high school diploma are more likely to have acquired the basic skills for earning a living and maintaining a household-sustaining income for themselves and their families.

Higher education, especially completion of a bachelor’s degree or higher, generally enhances a person’s employment prospects and increases his or her earning potential. In addition, children whose parents have post-secondary degrees are more likely to attain degrees themselves. Communities with higher educational attainment levels have been shown to be safer, healthier and more economically prosperous compared to areas with lower educational attainment levels.

For many, completion of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is an early and important step on the path to attending college and attaining a degree. Research shows that higher FAFSA completion rates lead to greater higher education enrollment rates and higher educational attainment rates.

While many students take alternative paths to attaining a post-secondary credential, research shows that students are more likely to complete college if they enroll within 16 months of earning a high school diploma.

While higher education degrees are a valuable and effective route to securing a self-sustaining job, they are not the only option. Many industries have developed industry-recognized credentials that provide skills and training to individuals seeking to advance their employment prospects. These opportunities exist in a range of fields, including energy, health care, construction, real estate, hospitality and more.

A potential measure for career-readiness for these individuals is the percent receiving an industry-recognized credential. This would provide a clearer picture of career-readiness for students entering the workforce. Because each industry has different standards, credentials and data systems, data on credential completion are not currently available, but state and local leaders have identified the need for this information and are working to develop methods to collect, analyze and distribute.