Jobs don’t match workers’ skills

July 17, 2011


It is a time of universal discontent in the United States. Politicians talk a lot but do little of substance, with every move seemingly designed to assure their re-election.

They all want to cut, cut, cut spending, but with little agreement on where — while the bloated national debt continues to grow by leaps and bounds. Sadly, relatively few seem focused on jobs, jobs, jobs, or at least with any degree of specificity.

Meanwhile, the unemployment rate has passed 9 percent with more than 14 million able-bodied men and women out of work. But stunningly there are nearly three million jobs available today.


Not when you discover that many jobs are there, but workers with the right skills are not. America has a “skills gap,” as educators have been warning for months, with little recognition from policymakers and pundits.

Simple numbers tell the story. The United States will create 47 million job openings from 2008 to 2018. Roughly a third will require a bachelor’s degree or higher. Another third will require an associate’s degree or a post-secondary occupational credit. And another third will require a high school diploma or less.

Here’s the problem: according to the College Board’s most recent college completion study, only about 40 percent of America’s 25 to 64 year olds have an associate degree or higher.

And the number of those jobs requiring some form of post-secondary education continues to shift in demonstrable ways. In 1973 there were 25 million jobs available to people with at least some college or better. By 2007 the number had grown to 91 million.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics offers more fodder for the importance of college: the unemployment rate for those with less than a high school diploma is 13 percent; for those high school graduates with no college it is 10 percent; for those with some college or an associate degree it is 8 percent; and for those with a bachelor’s degree or higher the unemployment rate is 4 percent.

“The dilemma is clear: We have millions of jobs without the people with the right training to fill them,” Gaston Caperton, president of the College Board, said.

And it’s not for lack of trying. According to an estimate from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, some $772 billion is spent annually on postsecondary education and training, much of it is outside the formal postsecondary system. About 60 percent of it is spent by employers.

The problem is a lack of coordination among those who expend money for education and training. This must be rectified with dispatch and has to include business, government, schools, four-year colleges, universities and the 1,200 community colleges. In this last group, enrollments are up 15 percent in the past two years alone but operational budgets have been reduced.

The United States can address the “skills gap” problem with unselfish leadership and reasonable resources, some new and some redirected. The clock is moving ahead and the country requires a direct and coordinated response from those in the public and private sectors, a response offering best thoughts for immediate and sweeping action and a response filled with promise and hope.

Clearly, the unemployed deserve no less.

Gene Budig is the former chancellor/president of three major state universities, including Kansas University, and past president of baseball’s American League. Alan Heaps is a vice president at the College Board in New York City.


ksriver2010 6 years, 9 months ago

I am currently unemployed. There are many skilled job listings that have requirements that actually conflict with each other - totally different technologies, for example. And we have moved to a point where a low level HR screener looks at all resumes based on a keywords list. If you have the keywords then you advance to the next screening phase. In addition, especially in the KC to Topeka corridor, skilled jobs are almost completely "contract to hire", so that employers can try-before-they-buy, or, even worse, use you just until the project is completed. This has become so common place that it has caused pay deflation. It used to be that contractors would be paid better than market because they are absorbing the risk and also have to cover more of their own benefits. But when the entire market turns contract, then the contractor pay falls to at or below the normal pay for fulltime workers. When Republicans (or for that matter any politician) talk about you having portability and ownership of your retirement and healthcare benefits, this is what they are talking about - a society of entrepreneur contractors with the employer paying little or none of the employee benefits, and no long-term social contract.

Liberty275 6 years, 9 months ago

Fastest growing occupations This table also can be found in the article, "Occupational Employment Projections to 2018," published in the November 2009 Monthly Labor Review.


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