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Students Need Real Opportunities for Work—Not More Debt

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Last week, Google announced its intent to join Apple, IBM, Microsoft, and more than 350 other private sector companies in the Pledge to America’s Workers Initiative. Through this program, the White House and its private sector partners have committed to providing Americans—from recent high school graduates to those nearing retirement—with a pathway into the skilled workforce of the future, bypassing the traditional four-year college track. 

The current K-12 to college pipeline is failing to prepare students for that workforce, and for many, is instead leaving them saddled with debt that prevents them from accessing the training and skills necessary to change careers or actively participate in—and stimulate—the economy. 

As I recently wrote, “more than 44 million Americans have student loan debt, meaning about one-sixth of Americans 18 years or older have student loan debt. All told, Americans owe more than $1.5 trillion in student loans.” 

This is a crisis that must be addressed. Instead of proposing one-size-fits-all government-funded band-aid solutions that would bankrupt the economy, we should be cultivating the workforce needed for today—and for tomorrow. America’s future success depends on a workforce pipeline not stuck in the 1950s, but one with its sights set in 2050 and beyond. 

While the left continues to make pie in the sky promises of free college for all and canceling student loan debt, programs like the Pledge to American Workers Initiative delve into the root of the problem by offering sustainable, actionable solutions—direct training for the jobs employers are seeking to hire for. With millions of open jobs and employers desperately seeking skilled workers, it's encouraging that private companies like Google are jumping at the chance to help. 

In fact, Google has already been putting its money where its mouth is on this issue. Since 2018, over 85,000 students without a college degree have participated in Google’s six-month IT job training program, which is part of the tech giant’s $1 billion initiative to train Americans for technology jobs. Job seekers can earn professional certificates from their online program, Grow with Google, faster than if they attended college. The New York Times reported that Google’s goal “is to allow anyone with an internet connection to become proficient with technology and prepare for a job in areas like information technology support and app development.”

It’s a win-win for the individuals that get truly prepared for an in-demand job and for the employers who are able to rapidly expand and fill empty seats with workers who have the necessary knowledge and training. 

But it’s not just companies in the tech sector that are benefitting from investing in workforce training and employment opportunities. Across the country, businesses within the trade sector are ramping up efforts to provide workers with on-the-job training or specialized apprenticeship programs. The trade industry has long recognized this need, but the status quo has been to encourage students to largely ignore these opportunities to earn a paycheck while receiving hands-on education and training in favor of a college diploma. Turns out, even after six years, nearly half of all college students still haven’t received that diploma—but are still wracking up the debt. That’s a major problem. 

Now, with the sign-on of Google and other major tech and corporate powerhouses, it looks like the tide is turning in the right direction. 

All of this news shows significant progress, but more still needs to be done. As Congress holds its hearing this week and 2020 candidates examine ways they can offer solutions for our workforce, lawmakers should look at the good work already underway through the Initiative. As more companies follow this path, Americans will have a variety of alternative options to enter high-paying jobs—without having to drown in student loan debt.

Whitney Munro is the vice president of communications at the Foundation for Government Accountability. 

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