When it comes to finding that first new job out of college or a new career, many applicants are told that they don't have the right skills. The result: Millions of positions go unfilled even though there are many more millions eager to find work.
It's known as the skills gap, and though there's been no shortage of discussion about the source of the problem and possible solutions, it's not clear which skills Americans are lacking. Employers say today's workforce lacks a combination of skills. For example, many manufacturers are looking for workers with technical savvy, including the ability to work with robotics, read blueprints, and use computer software to create documents and spreadsheets.
But it isn't only technical skills that employers are after. As the Portage Daily Register of central Wisconsin reports, hiring managers are also looking for soft skills, such as an ability to forge and maintain relationships and communicate effectively, as well as knowledge of basic workplace behavior. "To get people to show up on time, to get them to come in on Mondays or Fridays, to not be on the phone all the time" -- these are the workplace skills that employers say are lacking in today's workforce, Gene Dalhoff, a regional economic development official, told the newspaper.
The shortage of technical skills is the result of several factors, according to Anthony Carnevale, director of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. In a recent interview with PBS, Carnevale noted these issues:
- Structural employment, in which jobs lost in one sector of the economy, such as construction and real estate, disappear for good, while other sectors, such as health care and education, expand so fast that the pool of qualified labor can't keep up.
- Curriculum mismatch and the inability of colleges and vocational schools to keep up with advances in technology within industry.
- Production lags between graduation rates of new students in the future and current demand by businesses. They include an inability to properly educate students for jobs that will be in demand.
Though the skills gap presents challenges for those looking for work, additional education may not be the answer. As Forbes recently reported, with college tuition rates having skyrocketed in recent years, the prospect of getting a specialized certificate or an advanced degree is well beyond the means of many Americans.
"[T]he 'conventional path' has become so narrow, that it hardly even exists," wrote entrepreneur and Bleacher Report founder Bryan Goldberg on Pando Daily. "You can't just go to grad school and 'become' anything: a lawyer, a banker, a doctor, a journalist, a manager."
The future instead lies in low-cost or even free training online, offered by both startups, such as Udacity, and traditional colleges, such as Stanford University and the University of Maryland, in courses such as finance, business, computer programming and more. As Forbes notes, Udacity's business model is based on providing free education in math, science and technology -- including high-demand computer programming skills -- from anywhere at any time.
"Usually I reach about 200 students and now I reach 160,000," CNN quotes Udacity's founder Sebastian Thrun as saying after the launch of his first online course. "In my entire life of education I didn't have as much an impact on people as I had in these two months."
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