Commentary

Overview

Inside

The Thrasher Group

July 29, 2011 - Volume 31 Issue 20

Commentary

By Gene A. Budig and Alan Heaps

It is a time of universal discontent in the United States. Politicians talk a lot but do little of substance, with every move seemingly designed to assure their reelection.

They all want to cut, cut, cut spending, but with little agreement on where -- while the bloated national debt continues to grow by leaps and bounds. Sadly, relatively few seem focused on jobs, jobs, jobs, at least not with any degree of specificity.

Meanwhile, the unemployment rate has passed 9 percent with more than 14 million able-bodied men and women out of work. But stunningly there are nearly 3 million jobs available today.

Impossible?

Not when you discover that many jobs are there, but workers with the right skills are lacking. America has a "skills gap," as educators have been warning for months, with little recognition from policymakers and pundits.

Simple numbers tell the story. The United States will create 47 million job openings from 2008 to 2018. Roughly a third will require a bachelor's degree or higher. Another third will require an associate's degree or a post-secondary occupational credit. And another third will require a high school diploma or less.

Here's the problem: according to the College Board's most recent college completion study, only about 40 percent of America's 25- to 64-year-olds have an associate degree or higher.

And the number of those jobs requiring some form of post-secondary education continues to shift in demonstrable ways. In 1973, there were 25 million jobs available to people with at least some college or better. By 2007, the number had grown to 91 million.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics offers more fodder for the importance of college: the unemployment rate for those with less than a high school diploma is 13 percent; for those high school graduates with no college it is 10 percent; for those with some college or an associate degree it is 8 percent; and for those with a bachelor's degree or higher the unemployment rate is 4 percent.

"The dilemma is clear: we have millions of jobs without the people with the right training to fill them," Gaston Caperton, president of the College Board, said.

And it's not for lack of trying. According to an estimate from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, some $772 billion is spent annually on postsecondary education and training, much of it is outside the formal postsecondary system. About 60 percent of it is spent by employers.

The problem is a lack of coordination among those who expend money for education and training. This must be rectified with dispatch and has to include business, government, schools, four-year colleges, universities and the 1,200 community colleges. In this last group, enrollments are up 15 percent in the past two years alone but operational budgets have been reduced.

The United States can address the "skills gap" problem with unselfish leadership and reasonable resources, some new and some redirected. The clock is moving ahead and the country requires a direct and coordinated response from those in the public and private sectors, a response offering best thoughts for immediate and sweeping action and a response filled with promise and hope.

Clearly, the unemployed deserve no less.

Gene A. Budig is former president of West Virginia University and past president of baseball's American League. Alan Heaps is a vice president at the College Board in New York City.

Reprinted by permission of the Charleston Gazette.