On the Skills Mismatch and Employment

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April’s jobs report was released today and showed that, while the unemployment rate dropped to 8.1 percent, overall economic growth was sluggish as employers across the country showed their reluctance to add to their payrolls.  Speeding up the recovery has long been a focus of policymakers, yet today’s report demonstrates that closer attention must be paid to the gaps in the skill sets of today’s workforce. 

During President Obama’s State of the Union Address last January, he mentioned that there are nearly twice as many job openings in the science and tech sectors as there are qualified people to fill them.  These realizations aren’t surprising to those who, after searching for a job to fit their skill set and meet their financial needs, find themselves settling for jobs that might not pay enough and/or don’t utilize the skills they possess.  

The 21st-century economy has been cruel in many ways to those who have lost their jobs.  The recession created a somewhat unique scenario in which we witnessed both the loss of jobs, and vacancies that simply can’t be filled because the labor force does not have the necessary skill set.  The result is a vast unemployed and unmarketable pool of workers. 

Consider this:  studies indicate that eight of the top 10 majors with the highest median earnings are associated with engineering.  And while that study hints at a great way to make a lot of money, it should also be noted that a mere one-third of students who enrolled in STEM fields in the 2004/2005 academic school year graduated with a STEM degree. 

This isn’t to say there aren’t solutions.  In fact, during that same State of the Union Address, the President also described how some companies are now partnering with community colleges to train the workforce they so desperately need to grow.  Finding creative ways to cultivate a workforce is essential for companies to grow and hire.

As we embark on a two-person race leading up to the presidential election, it is important that both President Obama and Governor Romney continue to press for ways to train a 21st-century workforce.  We have long discussed the perils of an education system that fails prepare today’s students for tomorrow’s challenges; to continue down this path is a risk the country can’t afford.  There are number of Band-Aids that might spur economic growth for short periods of time, but until policymakers more aggressively embrace the needs for highly skilled American workers in our tech-based economy, economic growth likely will remain frustrating and sluggish.

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