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Article review: "U.S. Skills Gap is Hurting Manufacturing"

Posted by Carlos Gonzalez on Sep 13, 2018 12:51:47 PM

With a growing concern around the nations skills gap, companies look for a root cause. Guest post by Carlos Gonzalez with New Equipment Digest Magazine.

In 2017, the Committee for Economic Development (CED) embarked upon a “listening tour” of business leaders and parents to discuss firsthand information about workplace demands and aspirations for high school graduates. The listening tour made stops in five communities over the course of a year: Oakland, Calif.; Westfield, Mass.; Tupelo, Miss.; Marysville, Ohio; and Norfolk, Va.

Manufacturing is one of the main industries represented in the communities selected for the study and is a field that employs high school graduates without a higher-education degree. CED brought business leaders and parents together to figure out how they could make students ready to enter in-demand fields such as manufacturing, directly out of high school.

Cindy Cisneros, vice president of education programs at CED, explains the methodology of the study and how both parents and business leaders can contribute to career readiness for high school students.

U.S.-Skills-Gap-Hurting-Manufacturing-4

A builder on site discusses work with an apprentice. By 2020, 65% of all jobs in the economy are projected to require postsecondary education and training beyond high school.

How did CED choose the communities for the listening tour?

The five cities were chosen on the basis of achieving a diversity of geography, community demographics, and industry in which to conduct the focus group discussions. CED also drew from its broad network of member partners across the country to help identify sites. Invitations were extended to 10 business leaders who are representative of the regional economy, as well as 10 parents with children of varied age ranges from middle and high school. 

U.S.-Skills-Gap-Hurting-Manufacturing-2

An engineer teaches his student how to use a TIG welding machine. The skills gap can cost employers up to $23,000 a year per unfilled position.

Why does career readiness matter?

Career readiness has a long and somewhat complicated history in the United States. Following generations of pendulum swings from vocational tracking to college-for-all, recent years have seen an attempt to shift toward a more nuanced approach of preparing students for both college and a career.

Why this shift toward a middle ground? Despite some indications that our education system is improving following decades of standards-based reform, data show that too many young people in America are floundering. In the K-12 system, high school graduation rates are on the rise overall, yet attainment gaps persist: 88% of White students graduate within four years. However, their Black peers graduate at a rate of just 75%, and their Hispanic peers at a rate of 78%.

U.S.-Skills-Gap-Hurting-Manufacturing-3

A construction trainee learns technical skills on the job with her tutor. One report examining middle market companies found that 44% of executives report lacking candidates with the right skills.

Why do these figures matter?

By 2020, 65% of all jobs in the economy are projected to require postsecondary education and training beyond high school (35% at least a Bachelor’s degree, 30% some college or an Associate’s degree). Yet, if the attainment rates mentioned above hold steady, the supply of qualified candidates will fall short. Reports from employers already point to a skills gap, meaning a mismatch between the knowledge and skills of prospective employees and the competencies needed for available jobs.

U.S.-Skills-Gap-Hurting-Manufacturing-1

Two students work together on an engine in mechanical school. A national study found that 77% of employers believe that soft skills are just as important as technical, or hard, skills.

How can parents and business leaders help students develop these soft skills before they enter the workforce?

Both groups brainstormed a number of strategies to help students refine their soft skills while simultaneously strengthening their technical skills. All five communities supported the notion of work-based learning as a key to success. Discussions focused on providing students with opportunities to experience the full continuum, beginning as early as elementary school: awareness, exploration, preparation, and training. For example, the Marysville, Ohio community agreed that they could help school adapt goals to provide exposure to a future work life by allowing businesses to host career fairs and provide internships to high school students.

Implementing these ideas must begin with coordination and communication between parents and the business community, as well as collaboration with schools, in order to give students what they need to find and keep good jobs once they cross the graduation stage and enter the workforce.

(Click here to read the entire article.)

About CED

The Committee for Economic Development of The Conference Board (CED) is a nonprofit, nonpartisan, business-led public policy organization that delivers well-researched analysis and reasoned solutions to our nation’s most critical issues.

Since its inception in 1942, CED has addressed national priorities to promote sustained economic growth and development to benefit all Americans. CED’s work in those first few years led to great policy accomplishments, including the Marshall Plan, the economic development program that helped rebuild Europe and maintain the peace; and the Bretton Woods Agreement that established the new global financial system, and both the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.


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