Workers Wanted: Governor, Businesses Talk About the Skills Gap
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Sandra Westlund-Deenihan’s biggest work worry isn’t making payroll or increasing international sales of her metal float balls, valves and assemblies. It’s teaching her entry-level employees how to use a simple ruler.
Westlund-Deenihan, president and design engineer of Illinois-based Quality Float Works, spoke during a roundtable discussion on the skills gap at the U.S. Chamber Institute for Competitive Workforce’s (ICW's) Help Wanted event on September 20. The event brought together business leaders, policy makers, and innovative education leaders to discuss what businesses can do to better align the nation’s workforce needs with higher education.
Westlund-Deenihan says she’s looking for workers who have even basic math and science skills, but is coming up short. “We’re dealing with a lackluster pipeline of workers and uneducated entry-level workforce,” she said.
Even with almost 13 million Americans looking for work and 8 million more settling for part-time jobs, almost half the 1,361 U.S. employers surveyed by ManpowerGroup say they can’t find workers to fill positions.
According to the Department of Labor, there are currently more than 3.7 million jobs unfilled in the United States, in part due to a growing gap between available jobs and the proficiencies needed to effectively execute the work.
There is no more important issue than educating the future workforce, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell told the audience. While America has long touted its accomplishments, the fact remains that in many areas, including education, the nation is slipping behind, McDonnell said, pointing out that in math literacy, the United States ranks 25th among the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development countries. "The biggest enemy is complacency," McDonnell said. "There are a lot of other countries experimenting with capitalism and free enterprise nipping at our heels."
McDonnell has set a goal of 100,000 new degrees over the next 15 years and putting $350 million towards higher education in order to make it more accessible. The state has already begun to see the benefits. Last year, tuition costs in Virginia only increased on average by 4% compared to an average 10% increase per year over the previous 10 years, according to McDonnell.
Over the past few months, staff members from ICW have met with business leaders from around the country to gauge how the skills gap is affecting their industries. What they heard was that workers lack the basic skills needed to succeed in the workforce, including critical thinking skills, working as a team, or even the ability to show up on time for work.
The ICW team released its findings in a new report. The Help Wanted: Addressing the Skills Gap report contains key themes heard during these regional roundtables, as well as essays from some of the country’s premier companies, including State Farm Insurance and Dollar General Stores; and top education officials.