A Note From the Publisher

September 30, 2014
Senior Adviser, U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation

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By John R. McKernan, President, U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation

This summer, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation hosted a panel discussion on the issue of the current skills gap in America, which I had the good fortune to lead.

A key theme of that ensuing conversation was how could it be that, despite a stubbornly high unemployment rate, companies were reporting a lack of skilled workers to fill many of their open jobs? A companion to that question was why are our students lagging behind other nations in their knowledge of core subjects, such as mathematics, science, and other key disciplines?

Two of the people who joined me in that discussion were the governors of North Carolina and Utah. Both of them touted their respective efforts to ensure that their states’ residents had the skillsets for the jobs of the 21st century. In their view, the economic health of their states was more dependent on education and workforce training than ever before.

North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory said he often fields calls from companies looking to set up shop in his state, but those conversations always begin to trend towards a discussion about the skills of the available labor force.

“The first question we get is ‘do you have the talent?’” Governor McCrory said.

I can relate to that conversation firsthand. During my own tenure as the governor of Maine, I wanted to make sure our state’s citizens would be an asset to any company looking to locate there. I worked hard to make the state more business friendly and competitive, both nationally and globally. That effort began with a push for investment in public education, more rigorous curricula, the introduction of programs offering real-world learning experiences for students, and workforce development programs to prepare workers for jobs at businesses locating or expanding in Maine.

My colleagues in the state, as well as my fellow governors and I, discussed the notion of elevated academic standards long before anyone had ever uttered the words “Common Core.” Yet, despite our best efforts, hardly a day goes by that we are not reminded of how we, as a nation, are falling behind. Our students rank well below average in their proficiency in mathematics and science, and this places us at risk of falling behind competitively in many other areas, including economic growth.

This issue of the Business Horizon Quarterly explores the challenges we face in educating our young people and expanding the skillsets of our nation’s workforce. But it also discusses a series of innovative approaches that leaders are using to tackle the problem.

I am excited that this issue shares with you some of the public-private partnerships and other efforts that allow students to learn the skills needed for specific high-tech jobs. In many areas, corporate America is taking a lead in creating a talent pipeline to address the skills gap. Many people first saw these corporate programs as purely philanthropic efforts, but to the communities that are using them, they have become an essential part of educating and recruiting great workers.

This edition of the BHQ also comes as the Foundation’s Center for Education and Workforce has just released the results of its latest Leaders & Laggards report. This report offers an enlightening analysis of where states are succeeding and where they are failing when it comes to education.

We may never find the perfect formula for educating students and preparing them for the workforce, but we should never stop striving. Our nation’s economic future depends on it, and on the pages that follow, we share some of the ideas we believe will make a difference for the better.

John R. McKernan, Jr. is the President of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation and a former governor of Maine.

Read and download this article in PDF format.