Strengthening the Link between the Private Sector and Academia to Close the Skills Gap
The American Dream has always been fueled by opportunity—the opportunity to create a life better than your parents had, the opportunity to reinvent yourself, the opportunity to live out your fullest potential. The American Dream is tightly woven into the fabric of our country; inextricable from what it means to call oneself an American. But the American Dream is facing a new challenge, and if not addressed properly, millions may lose out on the opportunities America has always afforded her people.
Currently, more than 5 million jobs are sitting unfilled in the United States because employers cannot find qualified talent to fill them. Approximately half of employers are having trouble filling critical positions, and more than a third report not being able to take on new business due to a workforce shortage. This skills gap between what employers need and what job seekers are prepared to do is growing—estimates top 6 million unfilled jobs by 2020. And yet, millions of Americans are still looking for work but cannot find a steady position due to a lack of in-demand skills. This hits young workers particularly hard, with 5.5 million youth ages 16 to 24 out of school and work.
Economic opportunity is still available across the country. The problem is that education and workforce training systems are not keeping pace with the speed of business. Graduation rates in the United States have never been higher, but all that pomp and circumstance is not preparing graduates for jobs that will put them on a steady career path. Work is becoming increasingly non-routine, and employers seek workers who have both a breadth of general technical and soft skills as well as a continually-evolving depth of knowledge in subject matter areas most critical to a job.
We must prepare students for the workplaces of today and tomorrow while students are still in school. Without clearer connections between the classroom and the workplace, we will only see this gap continue to widen. For Americans, this could put opportunities out of reach for many, and threaten their American Dream.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation (USCCF) is working on that solution through its Talent Pipeline Management (TPM) initiative. Started in 2014, TPM takes a supply-chain management approach to workforce development, where employers are the “end-customers” of strategic partnerships with education providers.
TPM takes a supply-chain management approach to workforce development, where employers are the ‘end-customers’ of strategic partnerships with education providers.
By incorporating this employer leadership, the business community is given a larger role in communicating its needs—like an increased need for workers ready to compete on innovation and work in teams—back to education providers. In turn, education providers can receive better information from employers about what they’re looking for and craft curricula or work-based learning opportunities accordingly. Finally, this employer-driven system creates real career paths for students because they will know going into a program that they will exit with the skills and experiences employers want to see from job applicants.
The TPM initiative is designed to reopen economic opportunity for American workers by giving education and training systems better access to data and hiring requirements. Through a TPM model, a student looking to enter a particular pathway would more easily be able to identify their dream employer and the specific training programs, competencies, and credentials needed to be considered a qualified candidate. This initiative is already impacting communities across the country, bringing employers together like never before to define specific needs and provide educators with the information they need to build a curriculum that can keep pace with demand at half the cost, half the time, and twice the quality of traditional methods.
USCCF’s TPM initiative is active in more than 15 states nationwide. By participating in our pilot work and as members of our recently-launched TPM Academy, employer associations, economic developers, and workforce leaders are getting the skills they need to implement talent supply-chains back home. Since launching in October of 2016, more than 40 communities have stepped up to join the TPM Academy. By taking the initiative to scale, USCCF projects this nationwide movement will only continue to grow over the next few years—and given the current workforce landscape, not a moment too soon.
The speed of business is not slowing down any time soon, and we owe it to future Americans to keep our education and training systems at pace with employers so that we can offer the American Dream to future generations. By improving communication and efficiency during the transition from school to work under a TPM framework, we increase options for our young people and give them a clear path to careers. The business community knows that it is these critical opportunities that we must fight to protect if we want to keep the American Dream alive for years to come.
Feature photo courtesy of U.S. Army Sgt. Clydell Kinchen