Middle-skill jobs, which require more than a high school education but less than a four-year degree, currently make up the largest segment of jobs in the U.S. economy, and will continue to do so for years to come. Despite currently high unemployment and underemployment, some industries with high numbers of middle-skill jobs are still experiencing shortages of middle-skill workers. In 2006, about 50 percent of all jobs nationally were classified as middle-skill, but only 44 percent of workers had the education and training required to fill those positions.
A Business Roundtable survey from July 2009 affirms these numbers. During a month when the economy lost a quarter of a million jobs, more than 60 percent of employers reported difficulty finding qualified applicants to fill current vacancies. Even as millions of skilled Americans are out of work, too few of them have been given the chance to update those skills to meet the rapidly changing needs of local industries in a restructuring economy.
These persistent skill gaps limit the ability of U.S. companies to compete and grow. Many of those companies—particularly those that are small- and medium-sized—further lack the capacity on their own to recruit and prepare unemployed and underemployed workers to fill current job openings, let alone plan for the workforce needs of their industry’s future.
One policy strategy to address this challenge: Sector Partnerships
Sector partnerships organize stakeholders connected to an industry—multiple firms, unions, education and training providers, and local workforce and education system administrators—to develop shared plans and capacities for growing (or saving) that industry. These partnerships focus on building new workforce pipelines where skilled worker shortages exist, as well as changing how existing workers are utilized, retrained and compensated to maximize long-term retention, advancement and productivity.
Click here to learn more about sector partnerships and about National Skills Coalition’s national skills strategy.