The demand for “middle-skills” jobs—those that require more education and training than a high school diploma but less than a four-year college degree—remains high, yet the lack of a properly skilled workforce is hindering the ability of American businesses to compete globally. Similarly, a lack of relevant skills is hurting the average American’s ability to earn more and improve living standards. While business leaders, policymakers and educators recognize the problem, millions of job postings go unfilled even as millions of people remain unemployed or underemployed.
In this feature from the Harvard Business School, America’s business leaders are rallied to lead the charge to close the skills gap. By working in collaboration with educators and policymakers, employers can spark a revival of middle-skills jobs in America.
According to the report, Bridge the Gap: Rebuilding America’s Middle Skills, employers say it’s a continuous challenge to fill middle-skills positions even though the number of people seeking employment remains high. The research is the first to analyze America’s middle-skills jobs market data with a focus on competitiveness, and provides a framework for business leaders to prioritize jobs that matter for their business, industry, community and region. To close the skills gap, business should first focus on middle-skills jobs that:
- Create high value for businesses;
- Provide not only decent wages initially, but also a pathway to increasing lifetime career value for many workers;
- Are persistently hard-to-fill.
“For too long we have accepted the cliché that America’s jobs machine is broken. Someone has to take the lead in restarting it, and business leaders are in the best position to take decisive steps to end the misalignment in our economy—millions of job postings alongside millions of unemployed. This is the single most important issue to strengthen U.S. competitiveness—and bring back the American dream for our workers,” said Harvard Business School Senior Lecturer Joe Fuller, lead author of the report. “I am very grateful for the support of Accenture and Burning Glass as research partners. Accenture has worked in skills development across the globe and provides invaluable insights into the needs for skills in U.S. businesses of all sizes and across industries. Burning Glass provides us with unprecedented access to unique data on the U.S. jobs market, helping us identify, for the first time, the middle-skills jobs that matter most for America.”
The report, which is part of Harvard Business School’s U.S. Competitiveness Project, reveals the middle-skills jobs critical to competitiveness, guides business leaders about where to direct efforts and informs educators and policymakers about the need for closer collaboration with local employers. For example, the analysis shows that occupations in technical sales and sales management (e.g., financial services sales agent) are plentiful and often more rewarding than those that receive significantly more attention in the national dialogue, such as manufacturing occupations (e.g., machinist and tool-and-die makers). Narrowing initial efforts to these specific jobs provides a starting point to stem skills erosion, lift the middle class, and produce workers with in-demand skills.
“The majority of businesses have trouble filling middle-skills jobs due to many underlying issues such as inadequate training and lack of experience,” said David Smith, senior managing director – Accenture Strategy, Talent & Organization. “Businesses must develop a better process to source, develop, deploy and retain middle-skills talent to ensure their long-term productivity and corporate performance.”
The report’s overarching recommendations include:
- BUSINESS LEADERS must champion an employer-led skills-development system, in which they bring the type of rigor and discipline in sourcing middle- skills talent that they apply to their supply chains. This includes workforce planning to identify skills gaps, ongoing and preferred relationships with talent sources, especially community and technical colleges, and building robust internal training and internship/apprenticeship programs.
- EDUCATORS from community and technical colleges must embrace their roles as employment partners helping their students realize their ambitions by being attentive to developments in the jobs market and employer needs.
- POLICYMAKERS must actively foster collaboration between employers and educators, investing in improving publicly available information on the jobs market, revising metrics for educators and workforce development programs so that success is based on placing students and workers in meaningful employment, and championing the crucial role that middle-skills jobs play in a competitive U.S. economy.
“For too long, we have been working in the dark to address the skills gap,” said Matthew Sigelman, CEO of Burning Glass Technologies. “Now that more sophisticated data is available, employers, educators, and policymakers can identify the most critical middle skill jobs, pinpointing the specific skills and qualifications we need to develop to keep America competitive.”
Accenture is a global management consulting, technology services and outsourcing company, with more than 305,000 people serving clients in more than 120 countries. Combining unparalleled experience, comprehensive capabilities across all industries and business functions, and extensive research on the world’s most successful companies, Accenture collaborates with clients to help them become high-performance businesses and governments. Through its Skills to Succeedcorporate citizenship initiative, Accenture is committed to equipping 700,000 people around the world by 2015 with the skills to get a job or build a business. The company generated net revenues of US$30.0 billion for the fiscal year ended Aug. 31, 2014. Its home page is www.accenture.com.
About Burning Glass
Burning Glass’s tools and data are playing a growing role in informing the global conversation on education and the workforce by providing researchers, policy makers, educators, and employers with detailed real-time awareness into skill gaps and labor market demand. A Boston-based labor market analytics firm, Burning Glass provides tools for analysts track job market trends and for students to plan their careers and find jobs. Burning Glass collects and analyzes job postings from close to 37,000 online sources and then deploys advanced proprietary text mining to “read” each job description, allowing us to analyze the specific jobs, experience, qualifications, and skills employers are seeking in real time. www.burning-glass.com.
About the HBS U.S. Competitiveness Project
The U.S. Competitiveness Project is a research-led effort by Harvard Business School to understand and improve the competitiveness of the United States – that is, the ability of firms operating in the U.S. to compete successfully in the global economy while supporting high and rising living standards for Americans. The Project focuses especially on the roles that business leaders can and do play in promoting U.S. competitiveness. Current faculty research focuses on improving PK-12 education; closing the middle skills gap; and improving America’s aging infrastructure for moving people, goods, and information. For more information about Harvard Business School’s U.S. Competitiveness Project, please visit: www.hbs.edu/competitiveness & www.hbs.edu/competitiveness/survey.