Keeping The U.S. Workforce Competitive Is A Challenge We All Share

Much has been written about the Millennial Generation — from its size (100 million, making it the largest generation in U.S. history) to its disdain for the consumerist values of its predecessors to the impact of its college debt on its future prospects. Members of this generation have been pitied as the first to be economically worse off than their parents.

We know technology has already claimed many jobs and will claim more, and the pace of change has accelerated past the comfort zone of many older workers. But robots aren’t going to replace the majority of the workforce any time soon. We just need to be better matchmakers between workers and jobs.

But how do we accomplish this worthwhile goal? This is a national problem — especially in the IT sector, where as a nation we have the largest skills gap. One way is through education-based initiatives that will bring greater skills to generations currently coming out of our schools. To do this, the Arizona Technology Council together with the Arizona Commerce Authority and Cox Communications are participating in the Communities That Work Partnership led by the U.S. Department of Commerce and the Aspen Institute. Two very productive meetings have been held to-date and we’re sharing best practices from other regions around the country.

Another partnership the Council has formed is with the Center for the Future of Arizona, which is running a regional site for the Harvard initiative Pathways to Prosperity. This effort is focused on starting in middle school and high school to create pathways for kids who have interests in IT, bioscience, advanced manufacturing and energy.

The Council is also spearheading or participating in other science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) programs designed to motivate and prepare K-12 students to get into an IT pipeline, such as the Arizona SciTech Festival, the Arizona Science and Engineering Fair, and a Science and Engineering Bowl.

That’s for the future. But at present, we have a big problem of open jobs without trained workers. In fact, Dean Garfield, president of the Information Technology Industry Council composed of the 60 largest IT companies in the country, said at a recent Pathways to Prosperityconference that at least half of the open positions in the U.S. are in the IT area. According to the Computer Technology Industry Association (CompTIA), the IT sector accounts for approximately 7 percent of America’s gross domestic product (GDP), added nearly 200,000 net jobs in 2015 alone and now employs more than 6.7 million people across the country. These jobs must be filled by millennials or other current workers.

Because millennials have grown up connected to technology, they bring unique skill sets to their work. Although we are immigrants to technology, they are natives. They want to care about the place they work. They want to have an impact. They have many qualities that bode well for their careers and, in spite of all the negativity we hear about American education, they’re still the most highly educated generation in our history.

There’s another cohort we must consider to fill some of the open jobs: those approximately age 16-24 without a high school education and currently out of work. Because Arizona was focused for so long on real estate and construction as major industries, the state has the highest number of those workers than of any other state in the country. To address this issue, Global Pathways Institute, based at Arizona State University, has created innovative programs to help these people retrain because many IT jobs require only a community college education or even just a certificate.

We, as the parents and employers of millennials and displaced workers, bear some of the responsibility for our current condition, and it is in our best interests as leaders to address it. That includes not only educating future generations but also retraining current displaced workers and educating employers to accept alternative skills in lieu of standard education certificates. It’s a large assignment but if America is to be competitive, we cannot refuse it.

The GradsofLifeVoice Forbes team provides thought leadership, research and expert commentary on innovative talent pipelines and related issues such as the skills gap, income inequality, workforce diversity, and the business case for employment pathways. We seek to change employers’ perceptions of young adults with atypical resumes from social liabilities to economic assets. This post was originally featured here.

Education, Skills Gap, Technology,
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