What About More Experienced Workers in Transition?

“Great Jobs Without a Four-Year Degree” has focused on young men and women, roughly between their high school years and late 20s.  This emphasis will continue.  But there is no inherent reason why many of the ideas undergirding the project, as well as benefits accruing from it, aren’t also applicable to many older men and women, in their 30s, 40s, and 50s.  I’m thinking mainly of men and women who might be thought of as in “transition,” be reasons voluntary or not.  Think of layoffs well into middle age.  Or mid-career (or later) changes necessitated by health problems.

One of the things my American Experiment colleagues and I have learned over the last two years is there are far more job training and associated programs underway across the country, specifically aimed at young men and women still in high school and shortly afterward than most people know about.  Yet when it comes to older men and women who are “between jobs” and in other fluid situations, programs are scarcer.

One obvious reason is that experienced employees already know what it means to hold a job.  And they know how “soft skills” such as teamwork, refraining from fighting with customers and showing up for work every morning are fundamental, meaning they don’t need to be newly taught and learned.  And on top of that, there are plenty of community and technical colleges already, plus other education opportunities, including countless examples online, at the ready for people of all ages and circumstances.  Is this array not sufficient?

Putting aside big questions of who’s to pay for taking advantage of such opportunities, as well as how to find the money, a strong case can be made that, “Yes,” the array is usually sufficient.  So, what’s the problem?

Maybe not much.  But I keep wondering if significant numbers of older men and women—by whom I mean anyone older than 30 or 35—might benefit from a variation on the kind of enriched campaign American Experiment has been aiming at younger people (and their parents).  I’m thinking of ventures that would help men and women gain a more complete sense of the different education and career options open to them as they go about retrofitting the rest of their working lives.

Three questions jump out.


  • How will adults, who routinely have substantial family responsibilities, squeeze out the time to complete one-year and two-year certificates, or two-year community college degrees, never mind apprenticeships and military training, in demanding technical and other subjects?
  • Beyond finding the time, how will they pay for tuition and other expenses?
  • Still, for all my budding enthusiasm, might a venture effort like this be largely redundant? Won’t most adults in transition continue to figure things out for themselves, aided by small circles of family and friends?  Yes, of course.  But is there possibly a significant number for whom the wider vision of an adapted “Great Jobs Without a Four-Year Degree” might prove useful, even life-changing?  My sense is yes.


It’s an idea worth pondering, which I will.