Employer Perceptions of Associate Degrees in Local Labor Markets: A Case Study of the Employment of Information Technology Technicians in Detroit and Seattle
While promoting postsecondary credential completion is a national priority intended to help graduates secure good jobs, the value of credentials in the labor market from the perspective of employers is not well understood. Specifically, more attention is needed to understand how credentials align with employer needs. Through in-depth interviews with managers responsible for hiring information technology technicians, we examined their perceptions of associate and bachelor's degree holders in two contrasting labor markets: Detroit and Seattle. The study led to several key findings. First, across the two labor markets, employers expected some common qualities in both associate and bachelor‘s degree holders, including technical skills and knowledge, thinking skills, communication skills, and discipline. Second, while they expected some positive qualities in associate degree holders that were distinctive to this credential, many hiring managers also expected negative characteristics, such as a lack of academic ability, initiative, or skill. However, while both associate and bachelor's degrees provided relevant information about potential workers, employers did not expect the credentials to provide information about certain key qualities they sought in workers, including competency in customer service and teamwork, and personal interest in technology. Some of the qualities that employers expected in associate degree holders were linked to their local labor markets and their perceptions of the local community colleges. This study provides suggestions on how an understanding of the specific qualities employers expect in credential holders and of the role of the local labor market can help colleges better engage with employers and fine-tune their programs to more effectively meet students' and employer's needs.
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