Lack of Skilled Workers Threatens Economic Growth

Employers are looking to hire people with more advanced skills, especially in STEM fields, but job seekers are often struggling to figure out which skills they need and where they can learn them.

Shantel Burres grew up in New York, in the South Bronx, earning a high school equivalency certificate. But she was having trouble finding a job while juggling two children as a single mom. Terri McLaurin, also living in the Bronx, worked part-time jobs to support her 5-year-old son while living in a shelter.

This past June, these two young women graduated from Career Network: Healthcare, an 11-week work readiness instruction and career exploration program supported by a $1 million grant from JPMorgan Chase to Phipps Neighborhoods, a community-based organization in the Bronx.

Now, Burres works as a dietary worker at Montefiore Medical Center and McLaurin began a Patient Care Technician certification program at Hostos Community College this month to get the right training for a potential career with leading medical centers, such as Montefiore.

Most importantly, these women are now on the right path to a future in the health care profession.

These two women were caught in the skills gap that the United States is facing. Employers are looking to hire people with more advanced skills, but job seekers are often struggling to figure out which skills they actually need and where they can learn them. This is the case in many industries especially those that require a basic understanding of science, technology, education or math. As a result, even as the unemployment rate continues to fall, millions of Americans are still without a job, underemployed or stuck with a low-wage job without a career path partly because of this mismatch.

JPMorgan Chase’s New Skills at Work program is a five year, $250 million initiative to help educate and train people for open jobs at employers like Montefiore. We are also embarking on a major research project in nine U.S. cities and four European countries to identify the data that will help drive the right solutions to address the gaps between employers and job-seekers in these locations.

Over the next several months, we will be issuing a series of reports with this data to identify which industries in these locations are having the most trouble finding the employees with the education and training they need to fill long-standing open jobs. Our first report released today has focused on New York City, and we found some rather eye-opening numbers.

The report found that openings in the Health Care and Information Technology sectors represented 45 percent of the total postings for all middle-skill jobs in New York City between July 2013 and June 2014. To put this in context, more than 25,000 middle-skills jobs in five core health care areas and another 8,100 technology jobs were posted during this time frame.

We also found that the median hourly wages in several of these middle-skills occupations — jobs that require a high school degree, some postsecondary technical education and training but not a college degree — exceed New York City’s living wage of $20.93 per hour. For example the available nursing positions paid an average of $38.97, clinical practitioners were paid $24.35 and IT web developers were paid $34.93 an hour.

This comes as good news, especially for those hardest hit by changes in the economy. About 30 percent of the unemployed in New York City have been out of a job for a year. In the Bronx, the unemployment rate is double the national level at 11.8 percent. African Americans and Latinos bearing the brunt of joblessness and more than one third of youths aged 18 to 24 are either unemployed or are in low-wage positions with no opportunity to advance, according to the report.

More shocking is that even with ample openings and attractive wages in healthcare, it can take at least a month to fill those middle positions, versus the couple of weeks it takes to fill entry-level positions.

We must address these shortfalls.

First, employers are providing fewer opportunities for on-the-job training than they have in the past. Yet, they are still looking to hire workers with skills and experience. As a result, the responsibility for developing skills is shifting from employers to job seekers. This shift creates an imperative to develop an education system, especially at the community college and post-high school level, and training programs that recognize the skills and credentials that are needed by employers.

Second, employers must collaborate with educators to identify the skills they need to fill the jobs available and help map career pathways from entry-level to middle skill jobs and beyond. The health care and IT industries should provide more work-based opportunities such as apprenticeships and internships as well as training for their existing workforce so they can advance in their careers.

Third, this new data we are releasing will help public and private sector leaders align investments for education and training that fit with employers’ workforce needs and their current open roles. As exemplified by the Phipps Neighborhoods’ Career Network: Healthcare program with Montefiore and Hostos Community College, we must also do more to target disadvantaged populations throughout New York to help them identify potential job opportunities that match with their education and skillsets. This can be done in conjunction with the city’s community-based organizations that are on the frontlines of trying to help people get back to work.

Without taking these important steps, this skills gap threatens U.S. economic growth and holds back a workforce eager to be productive while earning a good wage.

Chauncy Lennon, PhD, is Head of Workforce Initiatives at JPMorgan Chase. He oversees the firm’s New Skills at Work initiative, a five-year, $250 million global workforce readiness and demand-driven training initiative.

This article originally appeared on US News.

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