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What Does The "Skills Gap" Mean For Educators?

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Marc Tucker, president of the National Center on Education and the Economy and author of the 'Top Performers' blog on Education Week, recently wrote a post in response to a 60 Minutes segment called, "Three million jobs in U.S., but who's qualified?" It reminded me of a survey conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) and Achieve that provides specific information on the future of the U.S. workforce.

SHRM and Achieve surveyed more than 4,600 HR professionals this past spring from nine industries, including government; construction, mining, oil, and gas; healthcare; high tech; nonprofessional services; professional services; finance; and manufacturing. The findings were published in an October report, "The Future of the U.S. Workforce: A Survey of Hiring Practices across Industries."

The report explains that even with today's high unemployment numbers, employers are having a difficult time finding skilled and qualified workers for more than 3 million open jobs. SHRM and Achieve note, "There is much speculation about why this may be the case, but no matter the reason, the fact is employers are searching for employees with more training and skills than ever before--a trend that human resource (HR) professionals expect will continue in the future. This trend makes it incumbent on the United States to ensure that future generations have the academic and technical foundation needed to succeed in tomorrow's economy and to mind that skills gap."

The report's major findings include:
1. "Companies are hiring. Every industry was hiring in 2011, with more than 95 percent of respondents saying they had open positions in 2011. Most job openings required a high school diploma (36 percent on average) or a bachelor's degree (36 percent on average)."
2. "Demand is growing for more education and skills at all levels. At the same time, all industries are projecting that future jobs will require more skills, education, and credentials at all levels, with some variations based on the industry and current levels of education required."
3. "Companies are investing in training for their employees. Most respondents report that their organizations' training takes place on site (81 percent), but a significant portion say it takes place on a college campus, be it a technical or community college (44 percent) or university campus (41 percent)."
4. "Opportunities exist for low skills workers, but there is reason to suspect that these opportunities will shrink in the future. More than 80 percent of respondents say their organizations offer advancement opportunities for low skills workers, mostly lateral or one-step promotions, with more than a third of respondents saying promotion pathways are endless for low skills workers with the right work ethic and attitude. The data, however, suggest that opportunities for advancement for low skills workers are more limited than respondents believe; more than 80 percent of respondents acknowledge that they hire employees with education credentials above a high school diploma for jobs that -- as posted -- require only a high school diploma."

Jennifer Schramm, manager of workplace trends and forecasting at SHRM and GPHR, says, "Today's tough job market means that many individuals are currently in jobs for which they have educational qualifications beyond those required for the position. But this may not be the case down the line - education requirements are climbing for jobs across the board."

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Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net user Ian Khan

What does this mean for future workers?
• 21 percent of respondents noted that administrative assistants will need at minimum an associate's degree, while 11 percent said they will need post-secondary certificate.
• 71 percent of respondents indicated that salaried, professional positions will require a bachelor's degree.
• 31 percent of respondents noted that skilled laborers, such as mechanics, technicians, and foremen, will need a specific post-secondary certificate or credentials.

What does this mean for educators?
Senior Vice President of Strategic Initiatives for Achieve, Sandy Boyd, says, "This survey reinforces the importance of having strong K-12 and postsecondary education systems that provide all students with the knowledge and skills they need to access and succeed in the careers of their choice. It's clear that the world has changed and employers are demanding more education and skills from employees than ever before. All students deserve a meaningful and rigorous academic experience that will prepare them for college, careers, and life."

Readers: Do these statics alarm you? Are you surprised to know that there are jobs open but no one to fill the positions? Please share your thoughts, comments, and opinions in the comments section below.

For full survey results you can visit: http://www.shrm.org/Research/SurveyFindings/Articles/Pages/ChangingEmployee-Skills-Education.aspx

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