Workforce Issues

Tremendous Challenges Ahead
In previous articles, we have discussed the tremendous challenges ahead for our nation, state and region as we enter a new era of global economic competition. This new era will require increasing numbers of workers with the skills necessary to compete in an economy driven by rapidly-changing technologies and innovation. These challenges include:
  • Quantitative Worker Shortfall. Over the next three decades, demographers project a worker shortfall. By 2030, workforce demand will outstrip workforce supply by a projected thirty million workers. This will be caused by a flat U.S. population growth and the retirement of massive quantities of baby boomers.
  • Skill Alignment/Shortages. In addition to the quantitative shortages, the skillset of our workforce may not align with the emerging jobs of today’s and tomorrow’s economy. The global knowledge and innovation economy will require more education and skills to compete with global competitors. At the same time, America is beginning to see critical shortages of engineers, scientists, nurses, technicians, technologists and teachers.
  • Entrant Workforce Deficits. Entrant workers are those young people transitioning from our education system to the workforce. Employers report major skill deficiencies of entrant workers in the areas of basic employability skills (attendance, timeliness, work ethic, etc.), math and science, reading/comprehension, problem solving, written communication, character education and personal responsibility. These are compounded by lagging U.S. educational attainment, high urban dropout and youth unemployment rates and fewer U.S. students choosing engineering- and science-related majors.
  • Transitional Workforce Participation/Skill Attainment. Transitional workers are those individuals transitioning in and out of the workforce at any given time. They include the unemployed, economically disadvantaged, welfare recipients, the disabled, veterans, new immigrants, older workers and dislocated workers. Successful reentry into the workforce may require increased skill attainment, training and/or education. With projected worker shortfalls it will become increasingly important to retain and return as many disconnected transitional workers back into the workforce.
  • Ongoing Skill Development of Incumbent Workers. Incumbent workers are those individuals currently in the workforce. Lifelong learning and ongoing skill development will be essential elements to keep the skillsets of today’s workers aligned with new technologies and business processes.
  • Systemic Flaws. Over the last few years, some states have eroded the authority and effectiveness of the local workforce development system. This includes efforts to narrow the focus of local workforce development systems to limit activities to job training for a narrow subset of the population; despite the needs of many communities to address broader quantitative, qualitative and economic alignment challenges; and despite the perpetuation and lack of integration of the current patchwork of dozens of job training programs.
  • Inadequate Resources. In 1978, the federal government spent about $9.5 billion on job training programs. Despite bipartisan support and an increased need for a more comprehensive workforce development capability, today, federal funding for the workforce development system is about $3.5 billion, or about 11.7 percent of what we spent in 1978 (after adjusting for inflation). To address these more profound workforce challenges, adequate funding will be essential.

Bold new thinking and drastic shifts in current public policy will be necessary to address these challenges. An essential step will be the development of a twenty-first century workforce development system that is at the nexus of education, economic and community development and is designed to produce the talent force for a new era. IBI