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  ·   By Liza Smitherman and Angel Pineiro, The Hill   ·  Link to Article

Trump administration should address skills gap to aid in creating good workers

At first glance, an IT consultant from New York City and a woman in the construction industry from Ohio might not seem to have much in common. But when it comes to business we’re finding our shared concerns – over our inability to fill open positions with skilled, trained workers in fields that may not require a college degree, but do require technical training and expertise – transcend our differences.

Employers across the country are facing similar dilemmas filling these so-called “middle-skill” jobs, where the right training could be a certificate, a short-term credential, on-the-job training, or an associate’s degree. According to a National Skills Coalition analysis, just over half of all job openings between 2012 and 2022 will be for middle-skill jobs, but only 44 percent of the country’s workers are trained to the middle-skill level. This skills gap keeps our economy from growing, businesses from hiring, and people from moving up in a career.

That’s why this week, we’re joining business leaders from 25 states in Washington D.C. to call on Congress and the incoming Trump administration to address our country’s skills gap by investing in training for those in middle-skill jobs.

At the local level, businesses like ours are forging creative partnerships with community and technical colleges as one way to address the gap. At ASI System Integration in New York, staffing teams for projects big and small is a critical part of the job, from entry-level tech workers to experienced network engineers. The problem? Those coming out of traditional four-year colleges lack the necessary experience to take even basic computer tech positions. Luckily, the company is finding great hires from nonprofit schools that provide free training in computer repair and support, community colleges offering computer tech classes, and from New York City public schools with CTE programs. These programs allow candidates to apply for entry-level positions but bring some experience to the table, giving them a leg up on the competition.

Jostin Construction in Ohio faces the same challenge finding qualified candidates. Finding the right people with the right skills is hard work, but the company has found that training and apprenticeships can be a big part of the solution. The company frequently works with larger partners in the area; when they see people with potential, they work to secure them membership in an apprenticeship program that provides both classroom and on-the-job training.

President-elect Trump and the new Congress have an opportunity to support middle-skill training, career and technical education, apprenticeship, and upskilling to narrow the skills gap that hinders hiring

First, we know that public private partnerships work to move people into middle-skill jobs – but they cost money. Our country should invest more in the collaborative partnerships between local industry and community colleges that train workers for in-demand occupations. We have an opportunity to bolster efforts like this when Congress reauthorizes the Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Technical Education Act next year. It’s a critical law that supports CTE at the high school and community college levels.

And we ought to make it so that career-oriented people can afford training for in-demand jobs. Currently, federal financial aid isn’t designed for people who want to earn a short-term credential – even if businesses are seeking to hire people with that skill. Unfortunately, that means training often isn’t affordable for the very people who’d most benefit from it. Through the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, Congress has an opportunity to extend Pell Grants to people who want to complete in-demand short-term occupational training programs.

For both of us, securing new business has been, at times, more challenging than exciting, because of concerns we wouldn’t have the right manpower for the job. By making smart changes to public policy that closes the skills gap, and investments in skills training, employers like us would be better prepared to meet our clients’ demands—and more people can grow careers in fields where they can earn good money and move up in a growing industry.  

If our country wants to eliminate the skills gap, put people to work, and truly be a leader, we have to build a pipeline of skilled employees. It’s a win-win: people gain marketable skills and move into better jobs; business get the skills they need to compete, grow, and fuel the economy. Businesses, community and technical colleges, and lawmakers all have a role to play if we’re going to give students the best chance at a great career in industries like construction and IT. Lawmakers should work with us, support and invest in our efforts, and design public policy that helps our economy by closing the skills gap.

Angel Pineiro is the Senior Vice President with ASI System Integration. Liza Smitherman is the Vice President for Professional Development at Jostin Construction, Inc. Both serve on the Executive Committee for Business Leaders United.

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