In the midst of the most severe economic downturn since the Great Depression, and with millions of Americans unemployed or underemployed, a majority of employers are facing a major challenge recruiting employees with the skills, training and education their companies require.
That is one of the key findings of a new report – "Across the Great Divide" – released by Corporate Voices for Working Families and Civic Enterprises, in association with the Institute for a Competitive Workforce, U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Peter D. Hart Research Associates. The report examines the perspectives of business and college leaders on the state of America's higher education, the skills gap and what is needed for the United States to be competitive in today's challenging global economy.
The report also identifies two key misperceptions that prevent us from closing this "great divide" between the readiness of our workforce and the skills employers are looking for: the need to recognize the value of short-term degrees and credentials, and the need to broaden the national focus from college access to the imperative for college completion. Two-thirds of job openings in the next decade will require at least some postsecondary education, including programs that are two-years or less.
Stephen M. Wing, President of Corporate Voices for Working Families, said: "The focus on college too often excludes the demand for those who hold two-year associate degrees and trade-specific credentials. Despite the conventional wisdom that bachelor's degrees are critical to success, the job market of the future will demand a vast new supply of talented graduates of a diverse range of postsecondary programs, including those that are two years or less. Not recognizing the value of these degrees is hindering our efforts to meet the needs of employers."
Jessica Milano, Senior Policy Advisor to Civic Enterprises and lead researcher for the report, said: "Community colleges and business leaders need to make a quantum leap in aligning associate's degrees and career credentials with the workforce skills employers demand. After all, the ultimate goal of a postsecondary education for students is landing a job in their chosen field and a shot at the American Dream."
Cheryl Oldham, Vice President of the U.S. Chamber's Institute for a Competitive Workforce, said: "To develop a skilled and qualified workforce that meets 21st century business demands, our nation must rise to the challenge of bridging this great divide. Leaders among all sectors, including business, education, and government, need to work together to provide real solutions and opportunities for Americans to access and complete postsecondary education and training if we are to remain globally competitive for future generations."
Key findings and perspectives in "Across the Great Divide" include:
- The survey shows business leaders experience high levels of frustration in hiring, indicating a gap between the skills of the nation's workforce, as they exist, and the demands of the nation's job market.
More than half (53 percent) of business leaders say their companies face a very or fairly major challenge in recruiting non-managerial employees with the skills, training, and education their company needs, despite unemployment close to 10 percent and millions of Americans seeking jobs at the time of the survey.
Those at smaller companies, who were responsible for over 50 percent of new jobs created in 2007, feel this most acutely: 67 percent say it is difficult while only 33 percent find it easy.
- More than three in four business leaders believe that increasing post-secondary completion will have an extremely or very positive impact on the U.S. economy (79 percent) and workforce productivity (76 percent). They also recognize the potential to affect both the success of their company (75 percent) and their company's ability to hire and retain employees with the necessary skills and knowledge (75 percent).
- The focus on "college" too often excludes the demand for those who hold two-year associate's degrees and trade-specific credentials.
Most business leaders (98 percent) believe the term "college" means a four-year degree. Just 13 percent of business leaders also think of a two-year associate's degree, and only 10 percent say "college" includes a career or technical credential. By the end of this decade, however, about an equal percentage of jobs will require a bachelor's degree or better (33 percent) as some college or a two-year associate's degree (30 percent).
A copy of "Across the Great Divide" is available on the Corporate Voices for Working Families website at http://www.corporatevoices.org and the Civic Enterprises website at http://www.civicenterprises.net.
About the study: Civic Enterprises and Hart Research surveyed a national cross section of 450 business leaders and 751 postsecondary leaders at community colleges, private sector colleges, and less selective four-year institutions from September 10 to 22, 2010.
About Corporate Voices for Working Families
Corporate Voices for Working Families is the leading national business membership organization shaping conversations and collaborations on public and corporate policy issues involving working families. A nonprofit, nonpartisan organization, we create and advance innovative policy solutions that reflect a commonality of interests among the private sector both global and domestic, government and other stakeholders.
We are a unique voice, and we provide leading and best-practice employers a forum to improve the lives of working families, while strengthening our nation's economy and enhancing the vitality of our communities.
About Civic Enterprises
Civic Enterprises is a public policy firm that helps corporations, nonprofits, foundations, universities, and governments develop and spearhead innovative public policies to strengthen our communities and country. Created to help clients address our nation's toughest problems, Civic Enterprises draws on some of the best minds in the country to fashion new initiatives and strategies that achieve measurable results. The organization works with a talented team of policymakers, public officials, senior advisors to Presidents and Members of Congress, social scientists, and leaders in the for-profit and nonprofit communities. For more information about Civic Enterprises, visit www.civicenterprises.net.
About Institute for a Competitive Workforce, U.S. Chamber of Commerce
ICW is a non-profit, non-partisan, 501(c)3 affiliate of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, promoting the rigorous educational standards and effective job training systems needed to preserve the strength of America's greatest economic resource, its workforce.
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Stephen M. Wing
For Corporate Voices for Working Families
Vice President of Communications