Publication Date: May 9, 2017
Americans are facing a workers’ paradox.
Job openings are at near-record high levels1. There are 5.7 million jobs across the country right now that are unfilled2. At the same time, too many Americans are frustrated by a lack of economic opportunity. Better wages and career growth are still rarities. It’s clear that yesterday’s workforce strategies do not fit today’s economy.
Everyone who has a smartphone should be able to have a smart career.
A smart career requires skills that go beyond those needed in the past. While America’s transition to the digital economy has brought tremendous opportunity for some, it also has shattered traditional career paths for others. For the nearly seven out of ten Americans without a college degree, the effects of this transition are even more acute. Today, if your highest level of educational attainment is a high school diploma, there are 7.3 million fewer jobs than there were in 19893.
Americans all across the country recognize that something isn’t working. In a telling poll released just before the election by the Pew Research Center in association with the Markle Foundation, 65 percent of respondents said good jobs are difficult to find where they live, and 63 percent said there is less job security now than 20 to 30 years ago4.
For job-seekers, employers, and policymakers, this conundrum is more than a puzzle —it’s the most pressing economic question in recent memory. But, unlike other paradoxes, this one has a solution.
It’s time for Congress and the administration to lead by rebuilding programs and incentives that can transform our labor market into one that values skills—not just traditional college degrees that are out of reach for most Americans.
Almost half of today’s available jobs are still open due to a lack of skilled talent5. About half of all job openings through 2024 in the U.S. will be “middle-skill” positions6 that come with good wages7 and more potential for career growth. But many of them will demand new skills that were not required for jobs of the past.
During a recent congressional hearing on job training programs at which I testified, lawmakers from both sides of the aisle spoke to how the lack of a college degree can skew the way an employer views a jobseeker — even if that candidate has the right skills for the job.
As a society, we must fundamentally rethink the way we view middle-skill jobs by placing a higher value on them and the alternative training paths to prepare for them. The process for acquiring new job skills must be attainable for any American who wants them. What we need is a Smart Career Skills Campaign.
Lawmakers and the administration can help ensure our workforce is prepared for this new economy by deploying financial aid resources, such as Pell Grants, for job training programs like coding boot camps and community college programs. Additionally, Congress should expand funding for apprenticeship programs, and give tax credits to businesses to make significant investments in employee training. Workforce training should also be included in any federal infrastructure spending plan so that any American who wants a job rebuilding our nation’s roads, bridges, and other vital networks can learn the necessary skills to get one. Even construction workers now need the skills to read digital records, construct 3D images, and sometimes even fly drones8. And when workers are no longer needed in construction jobs, they will need retraining programs to help them keep up with the ever-changing economy.
Congress and the administration can also help provide workforce centers—which help put job-seekers on the path to career growth—with the technology tools they need to maximize their impact. And they should make government jobs data such as O*Net more robust so it is easier to identify in-demand skills.
Getting more Americans onto meaningful career paths is why Markle and partners launched Skillful in Colorado last year. Skillful is integrating businesses, state government, non-profits, and educators to forge a new way of creating and accessing opportunity. Using data and technology tools, Skillful is providing transparency to help job seekers identify the skills they need for the jobs they want — and how they can get them. And it’s helping employers identify the skills they need for their business to grow, and helping educators learn which skills are in demand in their communities.
Much as we did one hundred years ago to help Americans transition to the Industrial Age by inventing the high school, we need to create the systems today that support people in getting the skills needed to get good jobs in the digital economy. Then, and only then, can we solve the paradox and unlock the true potential of our nation’s best asset: our skilled and talented workforce.
CEO and President
The Markle Foundation