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Economy slowed by jobs and worker skills mismatch

Posted: July 7, 2011 - 5:56pm

The following editorial appeared in the Dallas Morning News:

The numbers are stunning:

Millions of Americans are looking for full-time work. Millions more are barely surviving on part-time jobs that pay considerably less than their former full-time job. Others simply have stopped looking. The U.S. economy still groans from the catastrophic loss of 8.8 million jobs, the worst economic jolt since the Great Depression.

The depth of the recession explains only part of the reason this recovery is “jobless” and unemployment remains above 9 percent. Occupations that used to offer steady middle-class lifestyles have steadily vaporized in the past few decades, and too few Americans possess the skills to grab the lucrative new ones. When jobs and worker skills don’t match, economic downturns last longer and the recoveries produce fewer jobs at a slower pace.

These uncomfortable new realities are highlighted in “Blueprint for Jobs in the 21st Century.” The recent report, compiled by the HR Policy Association, seeks to make policymakers take notice that serious, embedded educational deficiencies are compromising current and future economic competitiveness.

Too many of those leaders naively pretend the U.S. economy is only in a temporary soft patch that time, budget discipline or massive rounds of government stimulus will return to prosperity. What’s missed in these analyses, say the human resources executives, is that China, India and other global economic rivals are increasing investments in the brain power of the next generation.

In their report, the HR professionals sharply criticized the government’s patchwork of job training programs and its failure to improve workforce quality. Instead, they urged, policymakers must focus on specialized technical training.

The percentage of four-year degrees in fields that require science, technology, engineering and math continues to decline. That leaves U.S. companies looking overseas not just for cheap labor but for skilled technical talent that isn’t being turned out in sufficient numbers here. The report concludes with one more bit of bad news: Immigration-law roadblocks make it more difficult for firms to retain skilled foreign-born workers.

Policymakers and corporations must come to grips with the serious mismatch of skills and jobs that exists in this country and find a solution that propels the United States into a leading role in the economy of tomorrow.

HARD NUMBERS: INSUFFICIENTLY SKILLED GRADUATES

Employers were asked about specific skills in which they find today’s workforce deficient for high school graduates and four-year college graduates:

• Writing in English: 72 percent; 26 percent

• Foreign language: 62 percent; 41 percent

• Mathematics: 54 percent; 12 percent

• History/Geography: 46 percent; 17 percent

• Government/Economics: 46 percent; 17 percent

• Science: 45 percent; 13 percent

• Reading comprehension: 38 percent; 5 percent

• English language: 21 percent; 4 percent

SOURCE: Conference Board, Blueprint for Jobs in the 21st Century: HR Policy Association

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