Education is Critical to Close the Workforce Skills Gap

Nearly 4 million youth are unemployed in the U.S. while as many as 600,000 manufacturing jobs currently remain vacant.   Business and industry are frustrated at not finding skilled workers to fill these jobs so these positions sit waiting to be filled.  This gap can be closed if educational institutions work closely with business to prepare students for the ever-changing market where skills depreciate quickly and credentials beyond a high school diploma are necessary.  When institutions and business work together both employees and companies benefit from the outcome.  

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Employers can’t find the skilled workforce needed to fill jobs, even as the number of unemployed youth drops slightly.

  • According to the World Economic Forum, 1.2 billion youth ages 15 to 24 comprise 17 percent of the world’s population and 40 percent of the world’s unemployment.1
  • The number of U.S. unemployed youth in July 2013 was 3.8 million, compared with 4 million a year ago; that is a 16.3 percent youth unemployment rate.2
  • According to the Manufacturing Institute’s 2011 Skills Gap Report, as many as 600,000 U.S. manufacturing jobs remain vacant, and survey respondents expect that number to increase in the next three to five years.3 
  • More than half of the companies in the survey said they couldn’t maintain production schedules due to the lack of qualified workers; nearly 75 percent said a lack of skilled production employees was impacting their ability to expand operations.4

Demands on the workforce are growing.

  • The Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce predicts that by 2020, 65 percent of all jobs in the economy will require postsecondary education and training beyond high school.5
  • The Georgetown center said there will be 55 million job openings in the economy through 2020—24 million openings from newly created jobs and 31 million openings due to baby boom retirements.6
  • By educational attainment: 35 percent of the job openings will require at least a bachelor’s degree, 30 percent of the job openings will require some college or an associate degree and 36 percent of the job openings will not require education beyond high school.7
  • Judgment/decision-making, communications, analysis and administration will be the four most in-demand competencies in the labor market by 2020.
  • The Springboard Project, an independent commission launched by the Business Roundtable, notes that almost three-fourths of the occupations expected to grow over the next six years require credentials beyond a high school diploma.9

Community colleges can help recruit, train and place workers and collaborate with business to accomplish the goal of preparing a skilled workforce.

  • Pacific Gas & Electric works with California community colleges based on hiring needs. Seventy-one percent of its PowerPathways program graduates participating in industry-informed coursework and career pathways are hired into industry positions and 98 percent of them are retained after six months of employment.10
  • Georgia Pacific offers paid training to increase the skills of its employees to fill a shortage of jobs requiring electrical and mechanical capabilities. Employees who graduate earn higher salaries and the company develops new talent.
  • Texas-based power provider Luminant employs workers for mines and power plants. The company’s Power Track program trains students for entry-level employment and provides a mentor during their first and second year of training. Current employees also can take advantage of courses and training enrollment has risen by 59 percent since the program was implemented.11
  • General Electric invests in its employees and the future of the corporation by providing training for the existing workforce at a local community college. GE pays for workers to go back to school for training on the global supply chain or to earn manufacturing certifications for machinists, welders and assemblers.

Business and postsecondary education both benefit from public-private partnerships.

  • Students enrolled in the first year of an industrial trades program at 100 community colleges can apply for scholarships through Grainger’s Tools for Tomorrow program. As this supplier of maintenance, repair and operating products works to help technical education students reach their goals, in 2013 half of the scholarships were offered to military veterans who were returning to postsecondary education.12
  • West Virginia University at Parkersburg works in tandem with DuPont Washington Works, one of the largest DuPont manufacturing facilities in the world to create curriculum for the Learn and Earn program. The program focuses on the skills needed to meet the demands of polymer companies and offers students the opportunity to earn a 30-hour certificate of applied science in chemical and polymer operator technology. 
  • A design simulation is offered in the classroom at Gateway Technical College in Wisconsin. Facility designers and directors at the school work directly with partner businesses to see how companies arrange their facilities then simulate the business environment in the college classroom.


1 World Economic Forum. “Global Agenda Council on Youth Unemployment 2013.” (2013) 
2 United States Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Employment and Unemployment Among Youth – Summer 2013.” (2013)
3 Manufacturing Institute. “2011 Skills Gap Report.” (2011) 
4 Ibid.
5 Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. “Recovery: Job Growth and Education Requirements Through 2020.” (2013) 
6 Ibid.
7 Ibid.
8 Ibid.
9 Business Roundtable. “Taking Action on Education and Workforce Preparedness.” (2013)
10 The Aspen Institute. “Skilled Trades Playbook: Dynamic Partnerships for a New Economy.” (2013) 
11 Ibid.
12 Ibid.

Education is Critical to Close the Workforce Skills Gap