By Joyce Russell
This month, the American people re-elected President Barack Obama after an election season full of hundreds of campaign stops, numerous debates, and endless polls. It was an election characterized by many issues— the auto industry bailout, the war in Afghanistan, and healthcare, to name a few. Yet, even up until the very end, one issue dominated them all: how to keep the economy moving in the right direction and help unemployed Americans get back to work.
In fact, an Associated Press exit poll showed that 60 percent of those who voted in this election considered the economy the biggest issue facing the country, and 40 percent cited unemployment — in particular — as the top economic issue; but this isn't news to anyone. While September's job numbers showed a glimpse of promise when the unemployment rate decreased to 7.8 percent from an all-time high of 10 percent in late 2010, October's numbers (back up slightly to 7.9 percent) showed that unemployment is a battle that is far from being over.
Job Market Still Weak
With the election now over, politicians can focus again on getting back to work—and getting Americans back to work as well. Although there has been positive movement in the creation of private sector jobs and a decrease in the unemployment rate, there is still reason for concern. Of those unemployed, 40 percent have been without a job for more than six months. Yet, one of the most frustrating things about today's high unemployment rate is that while many industries are suffering from a lack of available positions, there are jobs out there in certain industries — but not enough skilled workers to fill them. The issue of a skills gap is certainly not new, but it's now affecting Americans and their ability to work more than ever before.
Certain industries, such as healthcare, IT, and engineering, have always had a skills gap, but that group now also includes electricians, plumbers, and medical technicians. Additionally, in certain industries there is only one active job seeker for every three open positions — odds that any job seeker would like, but another reminder of how this gap is affecting the unemployment rate. Even manufacturing, an industry that both parties agree will play an important part in getting the economy going again, is facing this problem.
It's Time to Act
There are efforts underway to combat the skills gap, but we need to be doing more. Last year, for example, the Jobs Council launched the "10,000 Engineers" initiative, which aims to train 10,000 engineers a year to stimulate the economy and fill the skills gap. Unfortunately, it has not yet benefitted businesses or job seekers. This initiative requires businesses to make a financial investment in offering training courses to prospective employees whose skills may be a little shy of the requirements, as well as current employees who need further training to move up within the company.
But not all companies are able to make that type of investment, especially in the case of some small businesses where every penny is already accounted for. Caught in a Catch-22, these businesses need the right talent to be profitable and succeed, but they can't invest in training talent because they are not financially able to. Instead of having businesses bear the burden alone, we need to expand current public/private partnerships that are devoted to training workers in the most desired fields and then connecting them with the appropriate employers.
One such partnership Adecco is involved with is CareerOneStop.org, which is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration. The site provides free career tools and resources to a variety of audiences including job seekers at different levels — entry-level, career changers, laid-off workers, and veterans. One of the resources available includes education and training for jobs while connecting those newly skilled workers with career opportunities through elements like interview coaching, resume support and career fairs.
Such partnerships between government and the private sector are the key to improving the employment landscape and we need more of them. It's a win-win situation — providing businesses with trained employees and in turn the government with a stronger, more stimulated economy.
We know that President Obama has said that job creation is one of his top priorities; but there is more we can do — and that starts with preparing Americans by giving them the skills, tools, and training they need to be successful. Investing in America's talent is the way to get this country back to work and set our nation up for a successful future. Regardless of whomever you voted for, that's something we can all agree on.
Joyce Russell is President of Adecco Staffing US, part of the world's largest recruitment and workforce solutions provider.