Important Topics for the Future of the American Workforce

Millions of jobs are going unfilled due to a lack of workers with necessary skills. Concurrently, we are about to experience the largest group of military personnel returning home in a generation. These men and women will be experiencing a unique challenge as they get ready to enter a workforce that they may not be properly prepared for, with employers who lack the knowledge to properly train and integrate these veterans into a workplace. Additionally, each year hundreds of thousands of the world’s most talented individuals study and graduate from America’s top colleges and universities, and each year many of those same individuals return home – oftentimes because of visa and immigration limitations. At the same time that is taking place, companies are preparing to lose millions of highly trained workers to retirement, taking with them specialized skills and organizational knowledge.

The Job Skills Training Gap, Getting Veterans Back to Work and The Brain Drain are important issues that broadly relate to the current state of the workforce and are something that all companies should be aware of. A recent HRO Today conference that brought together HR Executives with government policy makers and legislators highlighted these topics because of their importance to the future of the American workforce. Below we provide brief introductions to these timely topics.

The Job Skills Training Gap

The skills required by many entry-level jobs today are fundamentally different from the skills needed for success in postsecondary education, which is what many school programs are focused on – getting students ready for college. Due to this focus, our education system is not turning out individuals who are prepared to fill many of the jobs currently available. Businesses continue to feel that there is a skills gap between what students are learning in school and what they need to be competitive in a global, high-tech economy. For example, students are lacking the technical reading skills for understanding documents and quantitative material, as reported by Willard R. Daggett, Ed.D., International Center for Leadership in Education in the white paper Jobs and the Skills Gap.

A shift in the economy, from industrial to technology based, has also played a part in the skills gap. Additionally, as the boomer generation begins to exit the workforce, companies are beginning to feel the effects of losing the skills of that workforce. According to a poll of HR managers, more than half the HR managers said their older workers have “stronger writing, grammar and spelling skills” than younger workers and they exhibit a stronger professionalism and work ethic.

Getting Veterans Back to Work

The unemployment rate for veterans aged 20-24 averaged 30% in 2011, more than double that of non-veterans of the same age. Over 220,000 veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan are out of work and veteran joblessness is concentrated among the young, as well as those who are concurrently serving in the National Guard or Reserve. Making matters more difficult, the employment gap is more than the lack of a college degree – young veterans still fare worse in the job market than their peers that are also without a degree.

Both companies and government organizations are looking for ways to make an impact on the unemployment of veterans. Large companies such as JPMorgan Chase and Verizon have signed a pledge to hire a total of 100,000 veterans by 2020 and Disney has also come out with plans to hire 1000 veterans. As of October 2011, the G.I. Bill that pays for college can also be used for vocational training or apprenticeships to help get veterans the appropriate workforce training. In March 2011, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce launched Hiring Our Heroes, a nationwide initiative to help veterans and military spouses find meaningful employment. In the first 12 months, the program has hosted more than 140 hiring fairs in 47 states and the District of Columbia and helped more than 10,000 get jobs, and the program continues to expand in 2012. Along with these other initiatives, our sister company PeopleScout announced earlier this year the launch of the Veteran Hiring Initiative, a program to partner with its clients to hire more than 10,000 military veterans during the next year, an estimated 25 percent increase over 2011.

The Brain Drain

Many talented Americans are choosing to leave the country in an example of a “reverse brain drain,” with the State Department estimating that 6.3 million Americans are studying or working abroad, the highest number on record. This phenomenon is coupled with the fact that talented foreign students are coming to study in U.S. universities, and, instead of staying in American to work, are either choosing to or being forced to leave the country.

Part of the reason for their leaving may be because the American economy is not producing enough jobs, but it is also due to problems with our current immigration policies. Many foreign students who complete Master’s Degrees or Ph.D.’s in science, technology, math and engineering at U.S. universities are not able to get visas to work in the U.S. after graduation, forcing them to return home and take their knowledge with them. Current immigration policies limit the number of foreigners who can seek careers in the United States, and critics say restrictive immigration policies hurt America’s ability to retain top students. In addition, highly education children of immigrants to the United States are moving back to their ancestral countries in growing numbers, many of whom say that they had been pushed to move by the dismal hiring climate in the US.

Another aspect of the brain drain has to do with the aging workforce. Older, more veteran, talent often has important and hard-to-replace skills, invaluable institutional knowledge, and also act as role models and mentors for younger workers. Institutional barriers, tradition, bias, and potential intergenerational conflict in the workplace may discourage them from reentering the workforce or transferring their substantial knowledge to the rising generation. Critical planning is required to facilitate effective knowledge transfer in advance of key departures to avoid skill or knowledge gaps. Smart companies are implementing strategies to ensure that they have a high-performing workforce with the right knowledge and training now and in the future. By keeping close tabs on their 5-10 year outlook for retirement and other departures, companies are able to anticipate who will be exiting their workforce and what skills and institutional knowledge they’ll be taking with them.

In a joint study from SHRM and the AARP, companies are preparing for the loss of talented older workers who retire by increasing training and cross-training, succession planning, hiring retired employees as consultants or temporary workers, creating flexible scheduling and part-time positions. Even with these processes being discussed, roughly 71% of those polled have not conducted a strategic workforce planning assessment to analyze the impact of workers 50 and older who will leave their organizations.

The Job Skills Training Gap, Getting Veterans Back to Work and The Brain Drain are issues that we believe all companies should be aware of as they currently affect many aspects of workforce management and planning, and will continue to do so in the future.

Have you dealt with the job skills gap, veteran unemployment or the reverse brain drain?