Time to halt the growing ‘skills gap’ leaving middle-class jobs unfilled

Time to halt the growing ‘skills gap’ leaving middle-class jobs unfilled
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Back in 2010, Microsoft founder Bill Gates predicted that the public education system was not equipped, and therefore not preparing, enough Americans to fill the available jobs of the future — jobs that require a high skill level.

His prediction is manifesting itself today, perhaps earlier than even he could have known.  And it’s not just math, science and engineering sectors that concerned the Microsoft founder and philanthropist where America is falling behind.  Today, there are increasing numbers of middle-class skills jobs in traditionally “blue-collar” fields that are going unfilled due to a growing “skills gap” in America’s workforce.

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A historic first showed up in the job statistics for the U.S., released this month.  According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are now more jobs available — 6.7 million — than unemployed Americans seeking jobs, which stands at 6.3 million.  Among other factors, this evidences the reality that there are insufficient numbers of qualified job seekers for the available positions in the workforce.

 

The Trump administration and the U.S. Congress can and should address this “skills gap,” starting with creating incentives for the private sector to invest more in expanding the number of skilled workers to fill these positions.

Rep. Lloyd SmuckerLloyd K. SmuckerTime to halt the growing ‘skills gap’ leaving middle-class jobs unfilled Election Countdown: Family separation policy may haunt GOP in November | Why Republican candidates are bracing for surprises | House Dems rake in record May haul | 'Dumpster fire' ad goes viral Judges refuse GOP request to block new Pa. district boundaries MORE (R-Pa.) has proposed the USA Workforce Tax Credit Act to provide tax credits to individuals and businesses that invest in programs to narrow and close this skills gap.  Specifically, workforce development or apprenticeship programs operated by a non-profit organization, labor union, state-approved workforce agency, community college or other entity would qualify for investment to generate the tax credit.  

In addition, the bill (H.R. 5153) would address the education deficit in preparing students for career and college by providing a tax credit for donations to K-12 scholarship funds so that more children — particularly from low-income and working class families — can access higher quality, more suitable education options that upper income families already can access. 

The federal government has long spent taxpayer money to increase the skill level of workers, including for programs like the Jobs Corps, which dates back to the “Great Society” of the mid-60s; but also programs like the Carl D. Perkins Act which provides funding for career and technical education programs in all fifty states. 

Judging from the skills gap manifest in the nation’s employment numbers, these efforts are important, but insufficient and sometimes produce skills in workers that do not always match the present-day economic needs. 

Congress needs to do more than merely spend more on such programs, as it did for the Perkins Act in the most recent federal budget agreement reached last March.

Using tax code incentives, as proposed in the USA Workforce Tax Credit Act, Congress and the Trump administration can encourage individual investors and businesses to steer increased private sector resources to create more qualified skilled workers for the jobs they need filled — now and in the future.  This new and innovative approach to involve the private sector to a greater degree as partners will better ensure that workforce development and increased apprenticeship opportunities fill the available skilled jobs that are so necessary to sustain a growing economy.

Absent meaningful congressional action, there will continue to be too few Americans with the skills necessary to fill the jobs available, many of which are high-skilled, middle-class jobs in areas in traditional blue-collar fields, according to the Labor Department’s data.  For example, there are currently an estimated 451,000 manufacturing jobs presently available and unfilled, plus 232,000 construction jobs, and another 27,000 available in mining and logging.

This trend of increasing numbers of unfilled, skilled jobs is likely to continue, absent concerted public-private action to better prepare more workers.

Congress and the Trump administration can do more, this year, by passing the USA Workforce Tax Credit Act that would create private sector incentives for greater investment in producing a higher-skilled American workforce.

Encouraging private sector investment in the workforce is another vital means in the federal arsenal to ensure that available jobs at every skill level get filled.  Doing so also will mean an expanding middle class, greater economic security, and sustaining a growing American economy in a competitive world. 

Peter Murphy is vice president for Policy at the Invest in Education Foundation.