This week I had the opportunity to share my thoughts with Big Ideas for Jobs, a research project promoting practical, sustainable, and scalable job creation ideas. Here’s what I had to say; you can also read the original post on the Big Ideas for Jobs website.
Each year, millions of jobs are created for workers with the right skills to fill them. These jobs are permanent, family-sustaining and unlikely to be outsourced. While it’s important to talk about “creating” new jobs within our nation, it’s also crucial that we fill the ones that already exist. The skills that these jobs require will be in-demand by employers long after any short-term job-creation program comes to a halt.
Even amidst high unemployment, our economy is suffering from an increasing shortage of skilled workers. 30 percent of all U.S. employers had vacancies that remained open for at least six months in 2011, despite an unemployment rate that exceeded 9 percent. To simply stop the skills gap from growing wider, we will need to produce 22 million new workers with post-secondary credentials – not necessarily a four-year degree, but some sort of training beyond high school – by 2018. At the present rate of growth, we will fall short of that number by at least three million.
It’s little wonder why: America’s one-year certificate programs (on average) graduate less than one third of their students within two years. The consequences of the divide between our students and our employers are dire. More than 6.7 million young people in this country are out of school and out of work, and together they will cost our economy more than $437 billion over the next five years, further straining our budget deficits and diverting money from other investments that promote growth in our economy.
We as a country can do something about this. Some of the most innovative community colleges and workforce training programs in the market today work closely with local employers to identify current and future positions of need. They then use their resources to offer targeted training to help prepare students for immediately available jobs.
This is what we do at my organization, Year Up. Each year we train over one thousand eager young people from the wrong side of what we call the “Opportunity Divide,” and then introduce them to businesses with jobs to fill. Our outcomes are not only impressive, but proven: More than 84 percent of our graduates are employed or in college full-time within four months of graduation, and those working earn an average wage of $15/hour ($30,000/year for salaried employees). Aside from helping U.S. companies grow, these young adults become experienced, valuable professionals. And our students’ success is contagious; not only do they become new role models and sources of inspiration to their peers, but local businesses can benefit directly from the increased purchasing power they bring back to their neighborhoods.
Just imagine the impact we could have by bringing our young people and our businesses together on a larger scale. They could power the economy for decades to come, and create millions of quality jobs in the process.
Rather than merely seeking to create new, low-skilled jobs, we need to create a sustainable education and workforce training system that prepares young people to fill the high-quality jobs that are being created every day. That’s not a partisan idea – it’s what our businesses and our young people need.