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The skills gap may be bigger than we think

April 18, 2016
Recently, there’s been lots of talk about the growing skills gap among younger workers, especially when it comes to professions critical to this industry, such as truck technicians.

Recently, there’s been lots of talk about the growing skills gap among younger workers, especially when it comes to professions critical to this industry, such as truck technicians.

There’s also been a lot of talk about how trucking may need to change its “people perspective” to recruit fresh blood into the industry’s ranks, especially Millennials, as they are going to make up 75% of the workforce by 2025.

Yet according to several recent studies and reports I’ve perused, the “skills gap” may actually be a lot bigger than trucking thinks – even among college graduates.

Take a recent global survey of 1,753 executives recently conducted by the Futurestep division of consulting firm Korn Ferry.

When asked what the top “attribute” desired from college-educated job applicants, the largest percentage of respondents (43%) listed learning agility, defined as “the ability to learn from experiences and apply those learnings to new roles.”

Unfortunately, learning agility virtually tied (30%) with business acumen (31%) as the largest skills gap among college recruits.

“The pace of today’s global, always connected business environment is frenetic,” said Vivienne Dykstra, Futurestep’s business development director. “Organizations need employees who can keep up, change and innovate as circumstances evolve. The best hiring and development initiatives have a focus on learning agility.”

Here’s an interesting corollary to that need for “learning agility” Futurestep’s survey stumbled on: the need for “diversity of thought.”

That’s described as “the most pressing diversity goal for college recruiting efforts” by 71% of respondents, Dykstra; far outweighing what you might call “traditional” diversity needs, such as gender (12%), ethnicity (11%), and sexual orientation (2%).

Futurestep defines “diversity of thought” as applicants equipped with a “wide range of backgrounds and experiences,” said Dykstra; the kinds of folks who can solve tricky problems by thinking outside the box.

Yet those kinds of skills seem to be are in increasingly short supply among younger workers – if they are even working.

Think for a moment on comments made by Jamie Dimon, chairman and CEO of banking giant JPMorgan Chase & Co. back in January when his company rolled out a $75 million, five-year global initiative to address the youth unemployment; dubbed the New Skills for Youth program.

“Economic opportunity is increasingly out of reach for millions of young people,” Dimon said.

“It is a crisis that only 60% of students in high-poverty urban school districts graduate from high school and that more than five million young people are out of work and school,” he added. “Without the right skills or education, they find themselves stuck in low-skill, low-wage jobs or unemployed.”

Dimon cited data during that rollout event that a wide range of employers are struggling to fill middle-skill jobs in computer technology, nursing, advanced manufacturing and other fields that require technical education and training.

“Too few young people are receiving the education or training in high school and beyond that would put them on a track to qualify for these skills-based positions,” he explained.

Indeed, according to U.S. Department of Labor statistics, by the age of 25, only one out of every two young Americans (52%) has a “meaningful postsecondary credential” that enables them to compete for a good-paying job – one reason the U.S. youth unemployment rate is more than double the national rate.

While a four-year college degree is one pathway, there are many high-demand, skill-based jobs available for young people that earn a certificate or credentials, participate in an apprenticeship or receive a two-year associate’s degree, the agency noted.

Yet without the necessary postsecondary education or training, young people face dwindling job prospects and lower wages over their lifetimes, the Labor Dept., said at the time.

On top of that, “low-income people” and “young people of color” are most vulnerable to missing out on opportunities to advance economically because they have not received the right skills or training. Again, Labor Dept. data indicates more than one in five young African American and Latino young people are neither working nor in school. And because they do not have strong connections to the job market or the education system, they are earning lower wages and relying more on social services.

That also makes them unavailable to fulfill trucking’s job needs, as drivers, technicians, and dispatchers, among others.

Hopefully, though, trucking can find ways to step into the breech to help fix this problem.

About the Author

Sean Kilcarr 1 | Senior Editor

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