In order to provide for enhanced prosperity throughout the United States, a more creative, agile approach to training and education is essential as the skillsets needed for success undergo rapid and frequent change.

Here we explore six essential questions at the heart of workforce development. Don’t just read this brief; engage with it, providing feedback along the way. Your voice will shape the conversation, define the issues, and help the community drive meaningful change across our nation.

Where do we stand?

Willing, but not able?

Many of the most skilled and productive workers in the world reside in this country, but we also have major capability gaps and too many people being left behind. Our huge shortfall in high tech workers is well known, but few know that literally millions of what’s termed “mid-skill” job openings are going unfilled. With so many still unemployed how is it that American businesses are unable to secure the people they need to grow? It’s because our education and job training system is out of alignment with the rapidly evolving needs of the global economy. Too often we’re preparing our citizens for yesterday’s jobs not the careers that will define our future. So how do we stack up against other nations? According to the most recent World Economic Forum analysis we’re 14th in the Extent of Staff Training, 27th in overall Quality of Education and 51st in Quality of Math and Science Education. (WEF 2014-2015) This just doesn’t cut it – too many American workers aren’t getting what they need to excel and thrive in the workplace.

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Where are we headed?

A glimpse at our future

If we maintain our current trajectory regarding workforce skill level, educational preparedness and training our position relative to major global competitors is likely to deteriorate further. Are we heading off a cliff? Unlikely, but if these issues remain unresolved the standard of living for the majority of Americans will continue to erode. Another risk factor is the accelerating rate of technological change. That technology will redefine and disrupt work as we know it is certain, the only question is how fast. This situation puts an even higher premium on getting good at things like training for mid-career transitions – something that isn’t a strength of ours right now.

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What's at stake?

Broadbased prosperity depends on overcoming our skills mismatch

Workforce capability is the cornerstone of prosperity. If we continue to lose our edge here we will ultimately find ourselves in a nation we no longer fully recognize. It’s not an overstatement to say that national security and our democratic ideals are at risk here longer term. We’re now entering what some term the “Second Machine Age” – a period of unprecedented technological change and competitive intensity. The economic and social disruptions will be enormous, but so will the opportunities for nations that get it right. If we got this right the upside is enormous – literally millions more exciting and rewarding jobs and an uptick in aggregate economic growth that would bring a range of fiscal and social benefits. We’re not ready to seize the future right now, but we have all the necessary ingredients to lead the world yet again. However, the clock is ticking and we can’t afford to continue spending more time arguing than problem solving.

What's holding up progress?

Many good people in business, government and the social sector are working hard on this. However, as big and fundamental as this issue is – it’s not a real priority in Washington. What drives decision making there is largely electoral politics (keeping their jobs) and special interests (to pay for the campaigns to keep their jobs). So is it all their fault? Sorry, we’re not off the hook that easily. We as ordinary citizens have the power to drive the national agenda, but only if we stand up and stand together. We never really sweat the big stuff in this country unless substantial citizen pressure is brought to bear. Right now it’s special interests and party partisans who are standing up and being heard. As long as they have the stage to themselves public policy will reflect their more narrow goals at the expense of our collective future. Workforce capability is an issue where we need to step up and do what it takes to play to win – or prepare ourselves and our children for losing.

Hear from the experts

What are the core
issues & challenges?

A multifaceted approach to reform

  • High Tech Skill Gap
  • “Mid-Skills” Capability Gap
  • Transition Training
  • Low Workforce Participation
  • Public/Private Partnerships
  • Innovation will drive future growth and the job creation that comes with it, but not without enough workers with math, science and technology training. We’re not providing American businesses with the supply of talent they need right now – and if we don’t get our citizens ready to fill this demand another country gladly will.
  • Jobs in industries ranging from financial services to accounting to hospitality are all raising the bar on employee skill requirements year in and year out – and we need to do a better job keeping up. Right now it’s estimated that 3.5 million job openings (HBS) can’t be filled due to this capability shortfall. That’s bad for business and a tragic missed opportunity for millions of struggling American families.
  • As technological advancement continues to pick up steam the number of jobs eliminated or transformed will grow. This will put pressure on mid-career workers to rapidly develop new skills to keep up. We need to get better at helping our citizens retool for the future. This is a major social policy issue, but it’s also a major business competitiveness priority.
  • Right now we have too many people are on the economic sidelines, with participation rates well below historical norms. This puts enormous pressure on our safety net and contributes to our fiscal problems. It’s hampering our business competiveness, undermining families and endangering social cohesion.
  • Lots of intriguing and potentially groundbreaking work is being done in this space right now. Many involve collaborations between business leaders and colleges, without the need for any formal government role. These efforts are to be celebrated, but given the scale of the workforce readiness challenges we face – all the major stakeholders need to take the field and work creatively and efficiently together to make the progress that’s required.

How can you help move
the nation forward?

A call to every American

Without your help and the support of citizens like you we’ll never move far enough or fast enough on education. What can you do today to help?

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