When the Problem isn’t a Lack of Jobs, but Lack of Skills

It’s a common refrain in American politics: bring the jobs back. This is usually said underneath the high ceilings of a manufacturing plant to a crowd of burly workers dressed in coveralls. Likewise, whenever a politician finds him or herself confronted by a topic they’d rather avoid, they duck for cover behind the concept that what American voters really want to talk about is jobs.

Jobs, jobs, jobs, and then maybe the economy, followed by more jobs.

However, we rarely talk about the 6 million open jobs in America as of the most recent Bureau of Labor Statistics report. That high number, which has grown since the fall, indicates that companies are having trouble filling positions. For example, the Manufacturing Institute recently predicted that 57% of manufacturing jobs to open in the next decade will remain vacant due to the workforce skills gap.

A recent white paper by Business Roundtable, a group of CEO’s from some of America’s biggest corporations, identified poor employability skills as one of three major gaps hurting the country’s workers, and subsequently hampering the overall economy. They defined employability skills as including, “the ability to use basic math, communicate effectively, read technical manuals, work successfully in teams, and participate in complex problem-solving.” Many of the companies who participated are trying to narrow the skill gap among their own employees through partnerships with higher education, however a more robust solution is seen as essential to modernize the US labor force.

As the Knowledge Economy grows, the need for workers with broad “employability skills” like critical thinking, information literacy, problem-solving, and communication will also grow. How well we prepare this next generation of workers will help determine the overall health of our economy and how many jobs we’ll be adding (and filling) down the road.  

To hear about how some in higher ed are innovating to narrow the skills gap, watch our recent webinar series, “The Onus is On Us: How Higher Education Can Close the Skills Gap,” featuring academic consultant Kate Sawyer and Lynda.com’s Laurie Burruss.