Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Skills to Pay the Bills? Addressing the Skills Gap



We all realize there is a rhyme and reason to everything. I'm not just talking about the Beastie Boys song, "Skills to Pay the Bills," although it does have a great beat. I'm addressing the skills gap. What is the skills gap? We have heard of the achievement gap and the digital divide, are they related?

In an article from the New York Times today, it gave some startling statistics from a recent study: "The United States ranked near the middle in literacy and near the bottom in skill with numbers and technology. In number skills, just 9 percent of Americans scored in the top two of five proficiency levels, compared with a 23-country average of 12 percent, and 19 percent in Finland, Japan and Sweden."

The skills gap is not the only gap out there. Here are some new gaps to be aware of. Each possessing their own definition and issue to the work force.

Skills Gap:  the divide between the skills employers want to find in a ready workforce and the know-how that unemployed workers have to offer from previous jobs and education.
Generation Gap: Those that are nearing retirement who lack the skills for the 21st century workplace.
Soft Skills Gap:  Workers (mainly those unemployed) who are challenged in these areas: Work Habits, Communication Skills, Workplace Effectiveness, Business Etiquette, Creativity and Collaboration

The manufacturing arena seems to be hit the hardest with the skills gap epidemic. In a recent research, University of Michigan economists have predicted the manufacturing sector in the county will add more than 4,000 jobs by 2015.

No reason to play the blame game, we are past that point. Blaming school systems and teachers for allegedly the lack of preparation needed for our current job market is not going to fix the problem at hand. In my opinion, we need to focus on improving the skill levels of the unemployed, or soon to unemployed by;  offering direct training solutions to those who need jobs as we strive to make technical and manufacturing careers more attractive as we explain how imperative they are to our whole economy.

We must develop training programs which cater to recent high school graduates and help them increase their skill levels for the specific job needed. I spoke with Ted Parker, Partner at Centriq Training,  who is doing just that here in Kansas City. This is what he had to share:

A skills gap exists because the education system today is not aligned with our rapidly changing economy. But what’s worse is that these institutions don’t seem to understand that.  Almost three-fourths of education providers believe they prepare their students for entry level jobs while less than fifty percent of employers and students believe it.  (McKinsey Survey Sept 2012.)

Academia has been too slow to respond to the effects of technology in relation to job skills.  As a result, education providers that can more quickly adapt to business needs are starting to appear. At Centriq Training, we work closely with area I.T. departments to continually modify our programs. By training on current technologies, we are able to place over 90% of our students in I.T. jobs.  

Educational institutions continue to look at technology as a tool rather than a subject. It needs to be both. Technology should be a core part of any curriculum. It’s just as important as math and English in preparing students to succeed in today’s world.


Another expert on this topic, Bob Jacobi, Executive Director, Labor-Management Council of Greater Kansas City said:

While unemployment and underemployment plague millions we have many jobs begging to be filled that can provide a middle-class living and satisfying if hard work. At the Labor-Management Council, we see our member employers and unions in construction, manufacturing and utilities looking hard for workers with math, physical dexterity and teamwork skills. Demographics are opening up positions and the demand for such workers will grow. Our economy is being limited because we haven't generated enough workers with the interest and skills to fill these jobs. If we can develop the needed workforce, we can help rebuild the middle class and grow our companies.
We need skilled manufacturers to build the materials and systems which make our world run. Every piece of equipment we use has a part which needs to be correctly assembled to work. There's a process and detailed method to everything around us. From your hobbies to traveling, every "thing" has it's place in this world.

As far as fixing the problem at hand through education, let's inspire kids to learn and be excited about the areas of science, technology, math and engineering. Let them explore, be creative, talk through their problems as they try to solve them. Supporting teachers and curriculum changes to enlighten kids on more discovery instead of standards testing is a constant challenge. In the end, it is the collaborative effect of our society constantly addressing this issue and finding solutions so hard working citizens can pay their bills with the skills they are very capable of possessing.

To learn more about what Chicago is doing, listen to Marie Trzupek Lynch, President and CEO, Skills for Chicagoland's Future.

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