12 Jan 2014 New Year’s Resolution: Closing the Skills Gap
This past December, Hope Street Group held a working session with the HR Policy Association and leaders in the policy and private sector, including U.S. Department of Labor Secretary Thomas E. Perez and top HR executives from Boeing and Gap Inc., to discuss the steps that must be taken to close the skills gap currently seen in America’s workforce. This event capped off a year that has seen a number of stakeholders, from businesses, to schools, to policymakers, all making significant strides to address the shortage of skills in this country’s workers and the jobs that are going unfilled as a result. These efforts must continue into the New Year and beyond to ensure all Americans have a chance of finding meaningful work.
At the Hope Street Group session, one of the recurring themes was the need for alignment across different areas, from the educational system through job training programs, if significant improvements are to be made for workers. College to Careers, a Chicago program that bridges the gap between students and employers, is one such step in the right direction. It is actually shaping both the design and delivery of the curriculum in City College schools so that students leave with the training and education to find high-paying, quality employment.
The city will receive a further 15 million dollars from JP Morgan Chase as part of their New Skills At Work program. This effort by the company consists of spending $250 million over five years to make data-driven improvements to job training programs domestically and abroad. By using knowledge of demand on the employer side to inform efforts to educate and train workers, JP Morgan Chase hopes to increase the efficiency of these programs and better match workers’ skills to the available jobs.
This year has also seen efforts being made by private individuals, such as Mike Rowe with mikeroweWORKS, to close the skills gap. His nonprofit recognizes that not all jobs require four-year degrees and provides scholarships and resources for students to find those quality opportunities. Year Up, a Boston nonprofit that similarly aims to close the “opportunity divide,” has also had great success in the past year. Their program in the Bay Area not only provides intensive 5-month training to low-income students—it then places them in real internships with area businesses that often turn into real jobs.
These efforts are significant. They show that awareness of this nation’s skills gap is growing and being taken seriously. However, a patchwork of initiatives will not address the systematic challenges faced by our workforce. For that, policymakers must be key in championing proposals to provide all students and workers with the skills they need to find meaningful work in the United States. And leaders from all sectors, from educational institutions to multinational firms, must sit at the table if these efforts are to be a success. January is the time for New Year’s resolutions, and I have a proposal. This year, let’s resolve to make the skills gap a thing of the past.