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School-Business Partnerships Needed to Solve Skills Gap


Many businesses are suffering today because they cannot find enough skilled workers.  The answer is education—but it's not just up to the schools, according to Edward Gordon, the author of Future Jobs: Solving the Employment and Skills Crisis. 

Speaking to a gathering of 300 members of The Associated General Contractors of America here on Monday, Gordon said businesses need to form alliances with educators to better prepare students.

Public-private partnerships are needed change the K-12 and higher education systems to make sure students get a quality education so they are critical thinkers, said Gordon.  At the same time, children need to be exposed to careers early so they can connect their learning to something that interests them.

"We need to change the talent pool and move more people up," said Gordon, the founder and president of Imperial Consulting Corp. a talent-management and -development consulting firm in Chicago. "Students need a good liberal arts education and a career component in some field."

While the economy used to hum along nicely years ago with about one-quarter of the workforce having some form of postsecondary training, the high-tech jobs of today require that more than half of workers have a certificate, associate degree or bachelor's degree, explained Gordon.

There are 7.3 million vacant jobs because Americans don't have the skills needed to keep up with technology, innovation, and specialization in the workplace, said Gordon.  As the Baby Boom generation retires from the technical trades, apprenticeship programs and training have been cut back by unions and business.   

"We need to invest in formal training at the local level," he said. "The skills gap is not the fault of education or business. It's a joint responsibility."

To address this disconnect, communities need to work together to inform students about future job opportunities, expand apprenticeships and support career technical education, said Gordon, who is an advocate of career academy high schools.

Audience members from various AGC states shared stories of hosting career fairs and partnering with schools to promote construction-related careers.

In Minnesota, planning is underway to introduce kindergartners to engineering concepts through playing with Legos.  Michigan is supporting a mentoring program to attract students to architecture and engineering. St. Louis has a charter school with a focus on construction.  New legislation promoting vocational training in Kansas has helped support entry-level construction classes in the high schools, with plans to expand the industry-developed curriculum to the middle schools.

Gordon told the contractors that collaboration is vital to the solution and they needed to get out of their business silos to survive in the future marketplace. "You can't wait until high school and you can't do it all by yourself," he said.

Elsewhere Monday, results of a survey released by the technology company, Adobe, showed 70 percent of hiring managers think students are unprepared for the "workplace of tomorrow."  Respondents said having creative problem-solving skills are increasingly important. The survey found 78 percent of hiring managers believe creativity is required for economic growth.

To train more American workers for in-demand jobs, the White House announced the winners of $450 million in job-driven training grants to nearly 270 community colleges. Funding for the program is part of the Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training competitive grant program, administered by the Department of Labor and the Department of Education.  The money will be used to help higher education institutions partner with employers to improve career-training program in areas as information technology, health care, energy, and advanced manufacturing.


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