Friday, January 30, 2015

The Skills Gap

According to Nicholas Wyman, "Today around thirteen million Americans, some with college degrees, are unemployed, and that does not include those who are underemployed....Yet three million positions remain unfilled, and a quarter of American businesses say they have trouble finding people with the practical, technical, job-ready skills they need." (1)  This reality is known as the "job-skills gap". 

As a young person in high school I continued to hear from my family, teachers, counselors and even my pastor about the importance of going to college.  I listened and attended college and obtained my degree. I entered the workforce as a teacher.  The message about going to college and getting a bachelors degree is still prominent in society today.  However, many college graduates tell me that they are frustrated upon graduation that they can not find a job or that the job they have is unrelated to the field of study they pursued in college.  As these frustrations mount, additional burdens grow as these college graduates are faced with paying off student loans based upon incomes much less than expected due to underemployment or without any income because they are unemployed. The economic and business landscape has changed much between the time I attended college in the 1980s and now.  Today a bachelors degree does not guarantee employment. 

This is not the desired result that we want.  So, what is the solution?  According to Nicolas Wyman, people today need to add to their college education the practical skills necessary to align with the needs of employers in the economy of the 21st century.  Students need to learn to work as a team, navigate the day-to-day challenges of employment, and gain practical experiences.  This means students pursuing a bachelors degree should consider seeking an internship or working jobs while attending college to gain practical skills and experience that can enhance their education. 

I would build upon Wyman's suggestion and encourage students to learn the importance of being on time to class, attending regularly, being prepared, and being attentive. Additionally, I would also suggest that as educational leaders we begin to educate potential students about the relationship of degrees to workforce clusters.  This entails providing information about what degrees and certificates are necessary for employment in the sectors of: Agriculture, Architecture & Construction; Arts, AV Technology, & Communication; Business Management & Administration; Education; Finance; Government & Public Administration; Health Science; Hospitality & Tourism; Human Service; Information Technology; Public Safety; Manufacturing; Marketing; Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics; and finally Transportation, Distribution & Logistics. Further, I would encourage students to consider exploring what jobs are available and what jobs are expected to become available in the near future.  Equipted with this knowledge, and these habits a student can tailor their studies to align with the needs of employers. 

For example, a student may love sociology and wish to pursue a degree in sociology.  However, a bachelors degree in sociology may not be directly related to a job.  Consequently, this student may want to consider attending a community college first and obtaining a job credential before going on to seek a degree in sociology.  Many of the jobs that are available to potential employees today do not require a bachelors degree.  Often these jobs require some type of certification or on-the-job training.  As leaders in society, I believe we need to do a better job in providing information to middle and high school students about what jobs and jobs skills are needed for employment today.  This is the first step in beginning to address the job skills gap. 

1. Nicholas Wyman. Job U: How to Find Wealth and Success by Developing the Skills Companies Actually Need. (New York: Crown Business, 2015), 2.

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