It’s Time To Train The Workforce

The latest Department of Labor jobs report released Friday for the month of July once again has great news for workers, but bad news for employers: America has more open jobs (approximately 6.7 million) than it has unemployed workers to fill them (6.3 million). This type of labor market can make the business community nervous, but employers do have options, including doing their part to grow the American workforce.

I am not talking about workforce growth through birth rates or immigration policies; I am talking about increasing the American workforce through the type of skills training that can bring the long-term unemployed population back into the labor market. Because America is not actually short on workers — we are short on skilled workers and those who are actively looking for work. If employers encourage and welcome some key groups back into the “actively looking” category, they will once again have a labor market that is on their side.

Americans who have dropped out of the workforce — for reasons that range from job loss to child rearing to military service — can face discrimination. They may be demoralized, and they may lack the specific skills that employers are looking for. Those who have recently entered the workforce (new high school or college graduates) can experience similar barriers — a lack of skills, networks and confidence. All of these obstacles can be overcome through strategic, relevant and continuing workforce training.

Workers who lost their jobs during the recession and have given up trying to find a job can be — in the context of meaningful training and an unbalanced job market — not an economic liability, but an important untapped resource. The same is true of veterans, older workers and women or other caregivers who are re-entering the workforce after time away.

There is encouraging evidence that the business community, and leaders in government, have already begun to engage in this task of growing the workforce through more intentional skills training. In July, a group of employers (including FedEx, General Motors, Home Depot, IBM, Lockheed Martin, Microsoft, Walmart) gathered at the White House to sign a pledge to train almost 4 million workers by expanding apprenticeship programs, increasing on-the-job training, and educating both students and workers throughout their careers.

On that day, President Trump signed an executive order establishing the National Council for the American Worker — a group of Cabinet members and senior White House officials who are now developing a strategy for skills training. The president’s order also created a Workforce Policy Advisory Board designed to bring together governors with business leaders and educators around the issue of worker training.

It is encouraging to see these collaborative efforts between the public and private sectors. On the employer side, apprenticeship and return-to-work programs are beginning to look like a growing trend. Aon has demonstrated that apprenticeship programs are not just for blue-collar workers, and has shared their own template with a group of other major employers in the Chicago area as part of a larger “Chicago Apprentice Network.” Goldman Sachs is among a handful of companies offering opportunities specifically to workers who have left the workforce for two or more years and are ready to return but need an on-ramp of skills development.

In the education sector, there is interesting potential in high school programs that partner with local employers to offer on-the-job-training, for high school credit, to students. Work-based learning opportunities are seen as a key to success by ensuring readiness for this young adult population. “Working colleges,” where students are required to work as part of the curriculum, could also experience an expansion across the country to help meet current labor market needs.

Strategic workforce training is the rare solution that receives enthusiastic support from all sectors and both major political parties. This creates an opportunity ripe for innovation and bold action. Employers who are anxious about the latest labor report should not worry; they should reach out, welcome back, and train forward.

Cindy Cisneros is the vice president of education programs at the Committee for Economic Development.

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