The Skills Gap: What Is it and How Can CTE Address It?

The Skills Gap and Skills Mismatch

One of the most persistent issues facing today’s policymakers, educators, employers, and employees is how to accurately forecast the skills needed for tomorrow’s economy and how best to educate the nation’s workforce to meet those needs. Organizations need employees with the right knowledge, skills, and abilities to achieve their goals and remain globally competitive. When employers encounter a shortage of suitable candidates for critical positions they need filled, a “skills gap” is often cited as the source of the problem.

Mind-the-GapA skills gap, also sometimes referred to as a “skills mismatch”, implies that there is a structural unemployment problem within the labor market. More simply, the available skills of individuals in the labor market need to ‘match’ with the skills needed in jobs that are open. When they do not align a mismatch or gap exists.

As Peter Orszag, former Director of the Congressional Budget Office, recently observed, “Over the past three years, the number of job openings has risen almost 50 percent, but actual hiring has gone up by less than 5 percent.” In short, companies are posting a larger amount of job openings, but are not filling these positions. The question is why?

The answer to this question is admittedly complex and economists across the political spectrum are divided over the issue. The debate boils down to whether the current high unemployment rate stems from a structural deficiency in the labor market preventing firms from hiring because they simply lacked suitable candidates to fill the position, in the right place, and with the appropriate skills or some other factors reflecting changes in aggregate demand.

Why Jobs Go Unfilled Even in Times of High Unemployment

Recently The Atlantic, in coordination with The National Journal, released an interview with René Bryce-Laporte the outgoing program manager of Skills for America’s Future. Titled “Why Jobs Go Unfilled Even in Times of High Unemployment”, the piece discusses at length issues surrounding the skills gap, why they have materialized, and what can be done to reverse some of the more troubling employment trends. Most importantly, Bryce-Laporte made a strong and compelling case for continued support and investment of Career Technical Education (CTE) programs.

The piece highlighted the importance of postsecondary institutional partnerships with employers, from Des Moines Area Community College’s relationship with John Deere and Accumold, to how Snap-On Tools works with Gateway Technical College in Wisconsin. These are the types of partnerships that help build a workforce which meets the evolving needs of employers.

These partnerships are not just for postsecondary institutions. Secondary schools have also  demonstrated a great capacity to bolster their CTE programs through partnerships with employers. In particular Bryce-Laporte emphasized the great work that IBM has done with New York City Public Schools in launching a P-Tech program there— an academic model which integrates CTE and core academic content throughout the secondary level, leading to postsecondary and career-related experiences by the 14th year. P-Tech has been so successful that other big cities like Chicago have sought to emulate their example and the President even chose to use it as a model for his most recent budget proposal for High School reform.

The full article can be found here.

Steve Voytek, Government Relations Associate 

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