Feature Story: Skills Gap Crisis

November 9, 2017 No Comments
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Communication Will Make The Difference

by U.S. Rep. Tom Emmer

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toc_features50pxAt some point in their childhood, everyone is asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Most children respond with fantasies like “pop star” or “President of the United States” because when you’re young, the future and having a job seems like a lifetime away. However, time flies, and before you know it, the future has arrived.

One of the biggest choices we make in our lifetime is choosing which path to follow after high school. It is an important decision, made rather difficult by all of the incredible options available. While most kids receive guidance from their families on which path they should take, many students also are receiving guidance from their schools, whether it be through a career class, teacher, or guidance counselor.

Unfortunately, these days most adults tend to want to steer our students toward a four-year university, without even presenting them with other valuable options. In fact, many of our students are taught to think that if they do not attend a four-year university, they will be less successful and their lives less fulfilling. While well intended, this advice is misleading overall.

Simply put, not everyone should go to a four-year university. And, having the idea that they should is leaving our workforce unprepared and jobs unfilled while failing to meet the needs of our nation’s economy.

For example, a recent article in the Star Tribune cited that 2017 has been one of the busiest construction years in the Twin Cities. But, despite the large amount of construction openings available to Minnesotans – the highest number of vacant jobs in a decade – builders and contractors are having a difficult time filling these positions. One reason? We are failing to encourage younger generations to pursue careers in this field. Careers that include good-paying positions, and no longer solely rely on the need for hard manual labor, but instead have many technical roles as well.

The manufacturing industry in Minnesota is also having issues attracting and retaining necessary talent. What is especially concerning about this is that manufacturing is the backbone of Minnesota’s economy and one of the top two drivers of the economy in my district. According to two-thirds of manufacturing executives, it has become increasingly difficult to find qualified candidates to fill vacancies. In fact, there are over 6,500 open manufacturing jobs available in Minnesota today.

The skills gap crisis is significantly prevalent in Minnesota, but it is one that spans from city to city across the nation. Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta recently announced that there are currently 6 million vacant jobs in the United States, which is the most since the Department of Labor started keeping track in 2000.

The skills gap crisis is quickly growing, and its negative impact on our economy and the American people is a reason why this issue has become one that I am very passionate about. It is also one that I hope to have a hand in fixing with the help of our educators, employers, and society.

According to the Greater St. Cloud Development Corporation, only 22 percent of jobs in Minnesota require a bachelor’s degree or above. This means that while the recent focus has been on encouraging our children to go to four-year universities, they often end up thousands of dollars in debt and without a clear path forward toward a rewarding career. Instead, we need to highlight the alternatives that exist, and eliminate the stigma that not going to a four-year college means you are “less than” in any way.

Thankfully, our educators and employers have acknowledged this and are taking steps to bring light to options that exist, and educate the generation of tomorrow about opportunities that are available today. Rockford High School receives donated machinery from local businesses to give students firsthand vocational training. Wright Technical Center provides alternative education and training, offering more than a dozen technical programs and career paths for their students. And the list goes on.

Not only do these incredible and innovative programs give young Minnesotans a variety of skills they need to become personally successful in the workforce, they also give our students the skills necessary to fill jobs that satisfy our economy’s overall needs.

In order to help close the skills gap, I recently voted in favor of the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act. This legislation will strengthen career and technical education programs that train students for their future careers, especially in industries important to Minnesota like health care and manufacturing. Perhaps most importantly, this legislation will create partnerships with businesses, educators and community leaders, so that they can work together to address the overall problem and find solutions. These private/public partnerships are already in the works within our communities and are what will be the true solution to the problem facing our nation.

If we are truly going to close the skills gap, I believe that we must close the communication gap first by reworking the way we talk about education, job opportunities, and entering the workforce. We need to do more to connect our educators, parents, and students with folks in various fields, so that students know every option available to them – not just the options that society deems most appropriate. If we can do that, then we will be a nation on track once again. pm_endmarkblue-e1320337140493


TOM EMMER represents Minnesota’s Sixth District in the U.S. Congress. He can be reached via his website at www.emmer.gov.house.

Copyright © 2017 Minnesota Precision Manufacturing Association. For permission to use or reprint this article please contact Nancy Huddleston, publications manager for Precision Manufacturing Journal.

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