Workforce Development Event Focuses on Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU)

College and university presidents and corporate officials recently gathered at the Atlanta Fed to explore opportunities and issues higher education faces in preparing students for a fast-changing and competitive labor market.

Several themes emerged from two days of panel discussions and presentations:

  • HBCUs are expanding programs that increase student and faculty exposure to employers such as internships and on-campus speaking engagements for executives
  • Soft skills like public speaking, writing, and knowledge of current events are critical
  • Students must be prepared to embrace lifelong learning, as labor market demands continually change
  • Broad engagement of the private sector, including advisory boards to help design curricula and use of adjunct faculty from industry, is continuing and evolving among institutions
  • Further integration of financial literacy and entrepreneurship into the college experience is important.

Fed Governor Bloom Raskin delivers keynote
The conference, Aligning Workforce Development and Employment Strategies for Historically Black Colleges and Universities, was sponsored by the Federal Reserve Banks of Atlanta, Dallas, St. Louis, and Richmond. The event was part of a broader Federal Reserve System initiative aimed at improving workforce readiness.

For African-American graduates, the job market can be even more difficult than it is for college graduates generally. The unemployment rate for college graduates overall is 3.8 percent, but it is 5.9 percent for African-American graduates, Federal Reserve Governor Sarah Bloom Raskin told conference attendees.

Bloom Raskin pointed out another critical issue for all institutions of higher learning: the rapid disappearance of jobs in the middle of the skills and pay scale. This polarization, she said, is concentrating job creation in either high- or low-skill jobs, effectively raising the skill demands for some entry-level positions for college graduates.