At New Penn Foster Gig, Stefanski Tackles the “No Good Jobs” Myth

While it may seem like those without a college degree have few good options in an increasingly tech- and services-oriented economy, a new report finds more than 30 million “good jobs” in the U.S. that pay at least $35,000 per year and can be had without a college diploma—and the right set of skills.

But many people don’t have the skills required to get those good jobs. It’s a mismatch workforce development experts like 127-year-old training firm Penn Foster are trying to address with new initiatives in online and tech-enabled in-person education programs.

While it’s true that the Midwest and other industrial regions have experienced deep losses in manufacturing jobs over the past two decades, the idea that one must have a college degree to compete for good-paying jobs simply isn’t true, says Ron Stefanski, Penn Foster’s new managing director for corporate education. Because of its ever-rising cost, college is out of reach for many people, he adds, and even if a person gets a college degree, it doesn’t mean they’ll be qualified to pursue available jobs.

He points to the recent Little Caesar’s Arena construction project in downtown Detroit as an example of the problem. Because the project was funded in part by public money, site developers were required to hire a certain percentage of local residents to fill the project’s good-paying construction jobs. When they couldn’t find enough local workers with the right skills for the jobs, the developers were fined $500,000. To call that a lost opportunity is an understatement, Stefanski says.

“If you look at the massive amount of revitalization going on in Detroit, you say wow, but if you dig down deeper, you have great jobs you can’t fill because people don’t have skills beyond basic literacy,” he explains. “It’s a big wake-up call.”

Stefanski is a born-and-bred Detroiter—we profiled his family’s deep connection to the city in 2016—and it bothers him to see his fellow residents miss out on jobs that can support a family and boost a person’s sense of dignity and quality of life. A former Cengage executive with a lifelong career in educational tech, Stefanski joined Penn Foster a few weeks ago. He describes the excitement he feels about his new position as being like Christmas in October.

“The reason for that excitement is scale,” he says. “There are upwards of 250,000 people in Detroit without a high school degree—that is a scale issue.” Since Penn Foster graduated 45,000 people last year, Stefanski feels the company has an opportunity to address the current skills mismatch across the country in a significant way that smaller organizations can’t.

Penn Foster, headquartered in Scranton, PA, was established in 1890, and Stefanski says its mission has remained the same since: to create a better world through education and career training. The company offers online and blended learning programs that can be customized to the student at both the high school and college level.

Penn Foster also offers a variety of industry-aligned career training and is one of the largest providers of apprenticeships in the country, Stefanski says. Almost all of its programs offer degrees or professional certifications and combine a “high tech and high touch” approach, he says.

“A big area for us is skilled trades, because there’s a paucity of available jobs,” Stefanski says. “A lot of really great jobs require more than a high school degree, but not necessarily a college degree. We want students to complete our programs and go immediately to work without crushing debt.”

Last week, Penn Foster launched Adeptli, a proprietary tech-enabled platform to deliver on-demand training and apprenticeships, with over 3,000 modules across more than 35 career pathways. Penn Foster works with more than 800 employer partners to … Next Page »

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Sarah Schmid Stevenson is the editor of Xconomy Detroit/Ann Arbor. You can reach her at 313-570-9823 or sschmid@xconomy.com. Follow @XconomyDET_AA

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