At our Economic Opportunity Forum this week, Carbonite CEO Mohamed Ali, suggested that the skills gap facing our nation is such a looming crisis that we need a wake-up call as we have had with global warming. Is this hyperbole or a hard look at our new reality? The skills gap is one in which employers increasingly cannot find qualified workers for skilled positions, and millions of workers who are unemployed or under-employed cannot attain these jobs. The consequences are very serious, and have two dimensions.
(1) The skills gap is depressing economic growth. This past February, the New England Economic Partnership forecasted that by 2018, Massachusetts' economic growth rate would drop by half, from 3% to 1.5% because the state will not produce enough college-educated workers to fill jobs in high-demand, high-skilled occupations.
(2) The skills gap is also depressing economic opportunity. Boston is now the most unequal city in the nation, and the "opportunity gap" is increasing as large numbers of Latino, African-American, immigrant, and less educated adults are cut off from quality jobs and the economic success they bring. If economic growth is cut in half, the opportunity gap will worsen, and the social problems that come with extreme inequality could spiral quickly.
Harvard Business School professor and author of the groundbreaking report "Bridge the Gap", Joseph Fuller told the Forum attendees that the skills gap is the result of several factors, with responsibility for solutions sitting with all sectors: industry, government, and education. Public higher education, particularly our two-year institutions, which train workers for "middle skill" positions that are highest in demand, is both significantly under-resourced, and not well organized to respond to rapidly changing occupational skill requirements. Employers too often rely on proxies for screening candidates such as BA requirements for jobs that don't require them, leading to job openings sitting vacant for long periods of time. Too few employers hire and train strategically, and even fewer partner with education and training organizations, as they do with their material and equipment supply chains.
There are many innovative examples of employer-educator-government partnerships that are addressing the skills gap, and JVS is involved in several. But they are small in scale, engaging in work-arounds rather than major systems change, and are too few and too small in contrast to the scale of this impending disaster.
LEARN MORE ON THE SKILLS GAP
U.S. Competitiveness Project, Harvard Business School (November 2014)
State of the Technology Economy 2016
Mass TLC (May 2016)
The Degree Gap - Honing In on College Access, Affordability & Completion in MA
MA Department of Higher Ed (June 2016)
JVS is committed to raising awareness on this key issue and being a part of the conversation to find solutions. Stay tuned for upcoming resources and events.