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In the United States, communities are working with businesses to prepare the next generation of workers

May 04, 2017

There were 5.7 million job openings in the United States as of February 2017, more than at almost any time since 2000. This would appear to be good news for unemployed workers and new graduates. But, nearly half of U.S. businesses reported having difficulty filling jobs due to a lack of applicants with the required skills, sometimes called the “skills gap.” Positions for skilled trades, such as electricians, carpenters, welders and plumbers, were the hardest to fill. What does this mean, and how can this problem be solved?

Students working in shop classSome states and communities have already begun addressing their unique skills gaps. North Dakota engaged FHI 360, as well as business and industry leaders, to advise the state university system on workforce needs. Through a needs assessment and gap analysis, FHI 360 developed a set of recommendations that the state will use to create its workforce vision. For example, North Dakota has a changing economy that depends on commodity prices, so workers need to have flexible technical skills and strong troubleshooting skills. The report also highlighted skills such as communication and problem-solving, and it provided recommendations and tools for integrating these skills into project-based and work-based learning.

The forthcoming Employer Engagement Study funded by the National Center for Innovation in Career and Technical Education, captures best practices and lessons learned from community college–employer partnerships across the country. The study will share practical tips and successful strategies from nine business–community college partnerships that have developed programs to address severe skills gaps. From high turnover in health care in Rochester, Minnesota, to technician shortages in North Carolina, to rapidly changing information technology needs outside Dallas, businesses and industries are working with community colleges to determine how to fill their workforce needs.

These initiatives are examples of steps in the right direction. But, more states and communities must start working with business and industry to prepare workers for real jobs, develop training programs that meet their workforce needs and, ultimately, help strengthen their economies.

Photo credit: Caitlin Rose Dailey/FHI 360