America still suffering shortage of skilled labour

Jul 15 2009 by Nic Paton Print This Article

There may be a glut of applicants ready to fill every available position right now, but many American managers are still struggling to find workers with the right skills to do the job.

In fact, according to the latest research from The Conference Board, if anything, U.S employers are still struggling to find people with even the right basic or applied skills, despite the rising levels of unemployment.

In the U.S, the national unemployment rate is now up to 9.5 per cent, with 7.2 million people losing their jobs since December 2007, the highest it has been for 26 years.

In the UK, meanwhile, unemployment rose by a record 281,000 to 2.38 million in the three months to May, latest official figures have said.

In response to the staggering U.S numbers at least, President Obama this week unveiled a $12 billion plan to help community colleges prepare millions of people for "a new generation" of jobs, highlighting the need for workers to have the right skills to cope with the new, post-recession world.

But the Conference Board research has argued that even employer-sponsored training is not

successfully preparing workers for the rigours of the workplace.

Its report, produced in co-operation with the organisations Corporate Voices for Working Families the American Society for Training and Development and the Society for Human Resource Management, polled 217 employers about their training of newly hired graduates of high school and two- and four-year colleges.

Almost half said they had to provide remedial "readiness" training for new hires, and the majority rated their programmes as only "moderately" or "somewhat" successful.

"The results of this study demonstrate how critical it is for companies to be more strategic and focused on efforts such as providing internships and working in partnership with community colleges on workforce readiness initiatives to prepare new entrants before they enter the workplace," stressed Donna Klein, executive chair of Corporate Voices for Working Families.

"It is a losing strategy for employers to try to fill the workforce readiness gap on the job. They need to be involved much sooner to prepare new employees to succeed," she added.

Employers also needed to do a better job of quantifying the threat of what an under-prepared or ill-prepared workforce really means, and in communicating this to the public, lawmakers and shareholders alike, argued Mary Wright, program director of The Conference Board's Workforce Readiness Initiative.

"It doesn't make any difference if you're operating a business in Mumbai, Beijing or New York Ė the number one challenge facing every organization is finding and growing skilled talent," added SHRM chief executive Laurence O'Neil.

"HR professionals are helping bridge the gap, finding ways to give employees the skills they need to add value and to be more valued. This isn't just an HR challenge, but a bottom-line global business problem," he added.

Having a knowledgeable, skilled workforce was critical for organisations to grow and be successful in the future, particularly now, emphasised Tony Bingham, American Society for Training & Development president.

"As the skills gap widens among new entrants to the workforce, it's clear that all stakeholders Ė employers, education, and the public workforce system Ė must collaborate to effectively prepare workers to be successful on the job," he added.

The report also highlighted a number of failings by employers as well as the education system. Many companies complained new hires lacked crucial critical-thinking and creativity, yet few then offered related training.

Similarly, employers rarely detailed their spending on remedial programmes, meaning it was all but impossible to assess the true costs of an ill-prepared workforce to their own, and just as importantly, to the economy's bottom line.

The key practical measures employers and managers needed to take were, it suggested:

The key practical measures employers and managers needed to take were, it suggested:

  • Creating a culture committed to training and thorough job-readiness screening
  • More strategic partnerships with local colleges
  • A focus on integrating training with job-specific skills and career development
  • Constant re-evaluation to align training with company needs
  • Better tracking of the cost and quality of training programmes
  • More help to focus philanthropic dollars and public-policy discussions on the need to link education, colleges and schools to the workforce readiness skills employers needed.

It's not just managers and the newly-redundant who are being let down when it comes to skills, either. A report last month by the UK's Ashridge Business School argued that new graduates and younger Generation Y workers were being badly let down by the schooling system when it came to trying to get ahead in the jobs' market, as well as by entrenched negative stereotypes in the boardroom and the media.