Companies Struggle to Overcome the Skills Gap

John Krautzel
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Employers in the United States are in a dilemma now that the economy has recovered from the recession it experienced between 2007 and 2008. While more than nine million Americans remain unemployed in the summer of 2015, over half of U.S. employers are left with open, unfilled positions due to the skills gap.

This means there are plenty of jobs, just no skilled workers to fill them. Many educated workers receive the training they need to fill the skills gap, but firms may not have the financial clout to move people from state to state in order to get workers on the job.

Instead, some employers turn to government training programs that help schools adapt to what employers want. State-sponsored job-training programs, collaborations with the educational system and apprenticeship programs all attempt to keep companies where they currently reside. Workers then utilize public-private partnerships to go back to the school, earn a degree and narrow their skills gap. The federal government passed a $3 billion program in 2014 in an attempt to jump-start workplace innovation training to help workers go back to school.

Other companies attempt to relocate where workers have the skills needed to fulfill the firm's financial goals. Some state governments lure businesses with promises of tax incentives, inexpensive land and a viable workforce. Right-to-work states that get around labor unions also create good opportunities for businesses looking to take advantage of lower labor costs.

When the economy turned south, many workers could not return to school to receive better job training, thereby exacerbating the current skills gap. Now that the economy has improved, employees may have the luxury to get student loans, earn an associate degree and make higher wages. Some programs, such as a collaborative project in Wisconsin, create skilled workers in as little at 18 months.

Businesses, governments and institutions of higher education must work together to narrow the skills gap among workers. States that move now can take advantage of opportunities brought about by better technology in the workplace. Automation, cloud computing, software engineering and robotics combine to drive many industries from manufacturing to software as service. Workers need to learn how to use innovations in order to earn higher-paying positions.

The collaborative circle happens in a continuous loop. Firms should help pay for the costs of training skilled workers who excel in school. Those workers then attend a company-approved program through a local trade school. The government must step in to provide incentives, grants and loans for students to attend classes. The end result means better jobs for workers, better productivity for employers and more money in local economies. Higher-paying jobs also create more income tax revenue for the federal government. Everybody wins in the circle of prosperity.

The skills gap occurs when businesses innovate faster than the workforce can keep up with. Workers eventually catch up, but it takes a few years. States that welcome these changes have the advantage since companies recognize long-term opportunities and take them whenever possible.

Photo courtesy of Stuart Miles at



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