Minding the Pipeline: Alignment between Education and Workforce Needs

Complete Tennessee recently released a report on regional barriers to postsecondary attainment and completion. The report, Room To Grow: Regional Perspectives on Higher Education Improvement, highlights challenges learned across the state and will guide future engagement and advocacy activities.  Here, Executive Director Kenyatta Lovett discusses one of these challenges and national best practices for improvement.


As Complete Tennessee advocates to improve college completion and degree attainment, I remain mindful of an important question: How can we ensure graduates’ credentials align with the demands of Tennessee’s workforce?

This is a question that cannot be overlooked; to focus only on increasing the number of adults holding credentials without considering whether those credentials are actually relevant to real-world jobs would be shortsighted. Thankfully, other organizations are equally concerned with the connection between college and career, and are providing research to help guide practice.

For example, I am encouraged and inspired by work coming from Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce. The Center’s latest report highlights the pressing need to improve the connection between college and careers – an issue that was underscored in Complete Tennessee’s recent listening tour report.

Labor alignment in postsecondary education, also dubbed “learn and earn”, is a national concern that we in Tennessee should consider when discussing completion and attainment rates. The Center’s report hits on two points that are particularly relevant to challenges found throughout Tennessee:

Point 1: What are the costs associated with uninformed education and workforce decisions?

This point is especially important for Middle Tennessee’s growing and increasingly specialized economy, and an initiative in California might be worth watching. California’s LaunchBoard provides “supply and demand information on earnings outcomes of graduates, student enrollment patterns”, and other information related to “impact of programs” on veterans and first-generation students. Tennessee could benefit greatly from such a robust information system. This approach facilitates much-needed dialogue between postsecondary education providers and local employers to help ensure labor supply meets economic demands.

Point 2: How can we help workers take advantage of postsecondary education and training opportunities?

In the current economy, workers must be able to navigate the ever-changing talent requirements of the labor market. Earning a degree or industry-recognized certificate is the standard approach to qualifying for jobs that require a new set of skills. However, standard credentials like degrees and certificates do not always clearly align with the specific skills needed to compete for jobs in a specific industry. Minnesota has developed a tool – JobStat – to help adults match current skills to the skills needed for their desired occupation. To support Tennessee Reconnect and the many adults in Tennessee who have not earned a degree or certificate, we should explore online resources like JobStat that can reinforce the necessity and value of postsecondary education throughout one’s professional life.

As we diligently pursue our completion goal for 2025, the question about credential and labor alignment will demand an answer. We owe it to Tennessee students, industries, and communities to seek a solution that can strengthen the school-to-workforce pipeline. Dr. Anthony P. Carnevale and his colleagues at Georgetown University share this mission, and Complete Tennessee will look to use their best practices to help ensure our completion goal is met and Tennessee employers can reap the benefits.