The unemployment rate is the No. 1 talking point this election cycle and understandably so. The September unemployment rate was 7.8%, dropping below 8% in a year that has seen rates hover around 8.1% to 8.3%, according to the National Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Yet maybe we’re looking at unemployment all wrong. Instead of viewing unemployment from the “there are no jobs” paradigm, it is potentially the other way around: People entering the workforce, specifically students with some form of higher education degree, do not have enough skills and education to take on the jobs that are available.
“There’s a disconnect between higher ed and the workforce,” James Applegate, vice president for program development at the Lumina Foundation, said on a panel at the Institute for a Competitive Workforce’s Help Wanted Conference in late September.
Mark Brenner, senior vice president of external affairs at the Apollo Group, explained that fewer people are receiving higher education, for reasons such as high tuition costs, thus fewer people receive enough education to be qualified for the open positions.
“Higher ed is a high-stakes game. Lower cost is less of a gamble,” added Applegate, closing that a university or trade school education should be more accessible. “A more educated workforce is a better workforce.”
Another part of the problem: the education people receive — of those who are able to obtain higher ed — is not comprehensive enough to fit the jobs available.
Richard Stephens, senior vice president of human resources and administration at The Boeing Company, spoke to how Boeing is “trying to move universities along” by working with engineering programs to tailor the quality of the education, while also providing students a gateway to jobs at Boeing via internships.
Innovating education and linking companies to the schools of all kinds — university, community and trade — may be the key in bridging this skills gap.
Danielle Troyan, director of external relations at Business-Higher Education Forum, said her company focuses on “connecting the people who want the jobs to the people who fill them” in order to decrease the gap and efficiently use the workforce.
“We have the jobs, we just don’t have the folks to fill the positions.”
Mila Lynne Floro, an Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator fellow and science and technology teacher, is passionate about providing students with the tailored education they need to succeed in the workforce, specifically in the science, technology, engineering and math subjects — popularly abbreviated as “STEM” — in which the professional arenas have a wealth of job opportunities.
“You can’t put kids in a box and put them through that process. Now the economy has changed. The only way a whole country can move up is if everyone works up.”