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Education and the Unemployment Rate

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

I read a couple of interesting statistics the other day in an article about the widening talent shortage among many American companies. The first was a citing about a study done by ManpowerGroup, a Milwaukee-based workforce consultant, showing that 52 % of employers can't recruit skilled workers for their open positions. The other stat, this time by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, showed that of the 9.2% of American currently unemployed, 78% have only a high school education or less.

These numbers are surprising and they tell me a couple of things worth noting regarding our stubbornly high unemployment rate. One is that the rate might not be so high if Americans would get educated and trained in areas of shortage and need. The other is that thinking you are going to get ahead in the 21st century with just a high school education is not preparation for the future.

The public and their proxy the media love to play the blame game for the high unemployment rate. It's the Democrats fault or the Republicans fault. It's greedy Wall Street or lazy Europeans and so on and so on. Instead of finding fault, perhaps we need to hold up a mirror and look into it. We could lower the unemployment rate and all of the misery associated with it significantly if we would further our education in strategic ways. Education is one of the best ways out of this mess.

I rarely hear or read the mainstream media report about this lurking education gap as being a contributor to the unemployment rate and I pay attention to a lot of news. Why do you think that is? Why is the national anchorperson hesitant to say that too many of the unemployed are lacking in the right kinds of education? Perhaps there is a concern that to say so might be perceived as elitist or that someone's feelings may be hurt. There is an elephant in the unemployment room that is being ignored and not fully discussed. And we as a country do ourselves no favors to avoid it.

We should address this issue head on. If we could be delivered news we could really use such as where the human resource shortages are and what is involved in preparing to fill them we could be much better informed. Let's hear more reports about the skills deficit for a change instead of this constant obsession about budget deficits. Let's agree that without a vigorous push for high quality education at all levels, then our chances of competing in the world marketplace are greatly diminished.

School districts and universities need to be more engaged in this conversation as well. Of course their mission is to provide a broad range of learning opportunities to the greatest number of people. But by not identifying and shifting resources to address critical shortage areas of the economy they are denying our workforce significant solutions needed now. Academic advisors and counselors need to work more aggressively aligning emerging talent with areas of employment need.

And let's try harder to see education as the benefit that it is. There is too much of an attitude that views education more as a cost than as an investment. Education can provide individuals with practical skills, a critical thinking ability, and confidence to succeed. It's among the best self-help techniques society can do for itself.

We can do more to reduce unemployment than to just wait for banks, corporations, or government to release more money. We can be smarter about creating a congruence between hiring gaps and workforce development.

 

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