The Future of Adult Education Is Now: Addressing the Skills Gap in Today’s Workforce

Posted by on Wed, Aug 13, 2014

skills gap


The US Labor Department reported in April 2014 that nearly five years after the end of the 2008 Great Recession, the total number of private sector jobs in the United States finally climbed back to where it was before the downturn began in early 2008. However, the number of private sector jobs in the country is still far below what’s needed to fully accommodate the millions of people who have joined the workforce since then or to relieve the backlog of jobless workers anytime soon. Millions of Americans have dropped out of the workforce entirely in the last five years, finally giving up the search for work. The number of long-term unemployed (those jobless for 27 weeks or more) still remains high at 3.4 million as of May 2014. Many of them will never return to full- or even part-time jobs.

For this reason, now more than ever, individuals need to prove that they are employable and a valuable asset to the workforce. That’s why adult education is growing to become an increasingly valuable and necessary part of the education system of the United States. The increased demand of adults seeking continued education is both a result of job requirements evolving at a rapid pace and the continued struggle with unemployment rates. Although it has gone down since the Great Recession, the US unemployment rate still surpassed 6.7 percent in February 2014.

One major challenge that contributes to high unemployment rates is the “skills gap” in the current workforce. While there may be open positions to fill, there is a mismatch between the skills positions require and the knowledge candidates possess. In fact, an April 2014 survey reported that seven out of 10 respondents feel that today’s employers expect them to be more qualified than ever before. Additionally, 63 percent of all jobs currently require some form of postsecondary education credential, such as traditional degrees, nationally recognized certifications, or technical certifications.

As many adults continue to try to get back into the workforce or improve their skill sets to advance their careers, it is important for the education community to provide these learners with the avenues to do so. This can be achieved by investing in adult education, as the overarching goal of adult education courses and programs is to provide education and skill development that will empower and prepare adults for postsecondary education success, viable employment, and lifelong learning.

[Did you know adult learner can get scholarships to go back to school?]

Profile of the Adult Learner

Who are these adult learners, and what options do they have to continue their education? An adult learner is by nature over the age of 18. However, learners’ education levels range from high school dropouts to college graduates. Some learners are looking to complete a GED, while others may have doctorate degrees, seeking to advance their technical education to remain certified and relevant within their fields.

Currently, there are three main options for adults seeking continued education:

  • Traditional postsecondary education
  • Industry associations
  • Adult charter schools

Traditional postsecondary educations include universities and community colleges that often have adult learners who enroll part- or full-time. Industry associations, such as EMT Indiana Association Hero’s Academy, provide courses and resources for employees to remain up-to-date on credentials and certifications. Lastly, an emerging adult education option is adult charter schools. The Community College Preparatory Academy (CC Prep) in Washington DC, which launched in 2013, already is serving more than 150 learners in its first year.

The District of Columbia is one of three jurisdictions in the United States identified as a knowledge-based economy; more than 500,000 jobs in this region fall into the administrative/technology category.

Designed to support adult learners as they develop the skills and knowledge they need for successful college entry and entry-level employment in a knowledge-based economy, CC Prep, in partnership with Pearson, offers online training in the core skills of reading, math, writing, and computer literacy.

Students in the first semester are required to take self-paced, online courses in Computer Concepts, Workforce Readiness, Interpersonal Communication Skills, Effective Business Writing Skills, Internet Search, and Job Search.

To provide learners with continuous support to ensure they stay on track to achieve their college and career goals, CC Prep also provides access to live, on-demand online tutoring, one-to-one mentoring, and employment specialists.

[Get answers to 10 Questions You Have about Online Learning.]

Future of Adult Education

Adult education will continue to gain momentum, as lifelong learning has evolved from a luxury to an expectation in the workforce. The United States should and needs to continue to invest and give attention to the progression of adult education. Advancements in adult education will require a collaborative effort from funders, service providers, businesses, and educational entrepreneurs. Technology advancements may increase the occupational “skills gap” at first, however, the same technology is being utilized in adult education to break through learning barriers, allowing learners to set their own schedule, and learn from virtually any location at a reduced cost.


the future of adult educationMr. Tom Darling serves as the National Director of Workforce Education for Pearson Education, the world’s largest learning company. In this role, Tom develops the strategic direction, new products, and marketing strategy in this newly created business unit with Pearson Higher Education. Prior to joining Pearson Education, Tom served as the Executive Director of Workforce, Economic, and Community Development for Ivy Tech Community College—Central Indiana. Mr. Darling believes that true workforce development occurs when an individual’s skills are increased to such a point that they are able to move forward in their career or to start a new career.


the future of adult educationMs. Spinner, CEO and Founding Team Member of Community College Preparatory Academy, brings over 30 years of experience in the fields of Adult Education and Workforce Development. She was also a key member of the Founding team of the District’s Community College and the Community College Preparatory Academy. Ms. Spinner has also done extensive work in the area of non- profit board development.

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