Kenyan Diaspora:Job Training That Works


Janet Murumba wasn’t always handy with a power drill. The Kenyan immigrant arrived in Seattle at age 30 with a high school education and no skills to speak of. What she did have was ambition. After a couple of years toiling in nursing homes, she set her sights onBoeing (BA). Last year she enrolled in a certificate program in industrial engineering at South Seattle College, which combines vocational education with academics. “In class,” she says, “I could drill for the first time, and it was like, ‘Oh God, it’s happening, it’s real.’ ”

Murumba was lucky to find her way to a college at the forefront of an important trend in American education—close collaboration with business. Employers, schools, and government agencies are learning to work together to fill jobs requiring “middle” skills—more than a high school diploma but less than a bachelor’s degree. The best community colleges and other training programs are preparing students for the jobs of today and tomorrow, not yesterday. They’re imparting education when and where students are most likely to absorb it, in keeping with a maxim of Lou Mobley, who started executive education at IBM(IBM): “Education is effective only at the time of felt need and clear relevance.” And employers are recognizing certificates like Murumba’s that attest to mastery of specific skills, sometimes in lieu of insisting on a two- or four-year diploma.

When it comes to getting people jobs, this isn’t the whole ball of wax, to be sure. Economic growth is essential. And career training is no substitute for general knowledge of the arts and sciences: cosmetology ain’t cosmology. But if this initiative succeeds, it will produce a stronger middle class and a more competitive U.S. economy. It could even help divided places such as Ferguson, Mo., which is seething over the Aug. 9 police shooting of an unarmed black teen. “There are very few problems in life that a good job can’t fix,” says Michael McMillan, chief executive officer of the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis, which runs workforce development in Ferguson and other towns.

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