It's time for systems-based solutions.
So you think this is a tough climate for finding the right talent at your business, do you? Well, you’re not alone: The National Federation of Small Business tell us that in September, a record 38 percent of business owners reported job openings they could not fill. More than half of the companies in construction, manufacturing and transportation fell into that category, and nearly half of those in wholesale trades and retail.
I’m here to tell you: They’re all wrong. A great many factors are working in concert to create the perception that American businesses are engaged in a desperate battle for the talent needed to grow and thrive. But consider this: While the nation’s reported jobless rate fell to a nearly 50-year low of 3.7 percent last month, that “official” unemployment rate is just half of what we should consider the real unemployment rate. The Department of Labor’s broader U6 jobless rate of 7.4 percent includes those who are, in effect, under-employed. They are working at jobs beneath their skill sets, or piecing together two or more part-time jobs.
At the same time, the labor participation rate is under 63 percent of the population. Yes, a lot of those not working are retired or disabled, but a great many willing and able potential employees are included in there. That rate fell sharply with the job losses of the Great Recession, but it’s still well below the high-60s percentages that defined the U.S. economy for a generation before that.
The fact is, we don’t have a labor crisis. We have a skills-mismatch crisis. It is inflicting economic pain on millions of workers. It is holding back growth and even greater job creation at millions of small businesses. What’s causing it?
In my 31 years of work-force development in Kansas City, and back in Texas before that, there have been many fundamental shifts in the nature of American business and manufacturing. Technology, machine learning and artificial intelligence guarantee that we’ll see more. But if we’re going to
address those issues as a regional business community, our approach cannot be siloed: We must account for the factors that perpetuate the disconnect between talent and employer.
Companies can and should finance continuing education for employees to get certificates for certain skills, opening the pathway to a degree and greater job relevance. And they should have support systems in place to help that single parent with that sick child, or help a worker get from the exurbs to the manufacturing floor if she has car trouble. More than many realize, a solution to their talent challenges lies well within their control.
This is not a Kansas City problem; it’s a problem throughout the country. Whoever figures this out will be the winner. If we
don’t figure it out here, jobs will go to other states—and talented workers with them.
But we won’t get there until people at all levels understand how important it is to have organic and systems-oriented solutions in place.
Clyde McQueen is president and CEO of the Full Employment Council in Kansas City.
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