Friday, September 28, 2012
The skills gap: Myth or Realty?

A debate has raged over the high unemployment rate and the “skills gap.” Are employers being too picky due to a glut of people looking for work? Are unemployed workers missing technical training and credentials that would make them eligible for job openings?

There can be no argument that a significant percentage of our workforce lacks critical education and skills needed in today’s economy. We know what works to address this problem: investing in skills training and education; partnering with employers and training programs; mixing public and private support. We’re doing that here in Massachusetts, but we need to enhance these efforts.

Forty percent of respondents to a Kauffman Foundation entrepreneur survey cited a lack of qualified workers as “the biggest obstacle standing in the way of continued growth.”

This skills gap sometimes can be filled with a two- or four-year degree; most employers cannot afford to pay for that, especially for a new employee. Companies throughout Massachusetts have stepped up their investments in workforce training by offering tuition reimbursement, paid time away for studies, and learn-at-work programs featuring language, math and computer training. Employers also contribute $8.80 per employee into the Workforce Training Fund and then can apply for training grants from the Fund if they provide an additional 50 percent match.

Public investment in skills training should be considered part of our public education system. Our economy requires lifelong learning and refresher certifications to keep pace with equipment and technology advances. Workers whose jobs have been eliminated may need more than “on the job training” to repair a hybrid vehicle, install a wind turbine, or administer the newest insulin pump.

Massachusetts believes in investment through increased resources for community colleges, training partnerships through the Workforce Competitiveness Trust Fund and the new STEM Education Pipeline. Skills development supports workers and businesses alike so employers can continue to create jobs, families can live on sustaining wages, and our economy can fulfill its promise.

Dan Wolf is Senator from the Cape and the Islands and CEO of Cape Air and Loh-Sze Leung is executive director at SkillWorks.

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