Addressing the Skills Gap: If Not Now, When?

July 10, 2012

Stagnate unemployment numbers continue to concern many community leaders and policy makers, but the reality is many workers are ill-suited for available jobs. While it may not be shocking to hear that professions like nursing, accounting, and sales are experiencing a lack of skilled workers to fill open jobs, it may be surprising to hear that industries such as manufacturing, welding, and engineering are facing similar obstacles. In fact, there are currently more than 3.2 million jobs unfilled in the United States, in part due to a growing gap between available jobs and the proficiencies needed to effectively execute the work. We must turn our attention to when and how we are going to address this country’s skills gap.

Over the past few months, staff members of the Institute for a Competitive Workforce (ICW) have met with business leaders from around the country to gauge how the skills gap is affecting their industries. What we hear is consistent with past concerns: workers lack the basic skills needed to succeed in the workforce. Whether it’s the ability to work as a team, demonstrate critical thinking skills, or simply show up on time, employers are in need of reliable, adaptable workers. Through these conversations, we have identified states programs and partnerships that link career readiness in schools to well-paying jobs in growing industries. These conversations led us to ask a few questions:

  • For future workforce development and training programs, does it make sense to shift financial incentives to meet labor market demand?
  • Would a more employer-driven approach to postsecondary certificate programs benefit all parties involved in the long run?
  • What is an effective way to expose students to an array of career opportunities and pathways earlier in their education?

On September 20, ICW will host a forum titled Help Wanted, which will bring together business leaders, policy makers, and innovative education leaders to discuss what we can do to better align our workforce needs with higher education. Participants will learn about public-private partnerships and innovative practices that could improve some of our country’s most pressing issues. Although we don’t advocate that the sole purpose of pursuing higher education is to get a job, we would be kidding ourselves if we didn’t think of labor outcomes as one of the most important reasons to attend.

Additionally, ICW will release a new report representing the business community from various industries on their experiences with the skills gap and hopes for the future of postsecondary education and workforce training. Through group discussions and small roundtable conversations, Help Wanted will evaluate the skills gap from multiple perspectives and set the stage to take action. To join us on September 20, click here to register for the event.

Jaimie Matthews is Manager of Programs and Research at ICW