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Why Aren’t We Making More Progress Bridging the Skills Gap?

Amatrol - Why Aren’t We Making More Progress Bridging the Skills GapWhy are there still so many open manufacturing positions in every industry across the U.S.? In a nutshell, the answer for year after year now has been the same: the skills gap. The supply of highly-skilled workers simply isn’t great enough to meet the continuously growing demand for workers with advanced technical skills.

The skills gap is not a new problem. It’s been an issue for many years. It’s also been the subject of countless articles examining the causes responsible for the gap, as well as potential solutions to bridge the gap. Yet, despite how well known the problem is, it appears that surprisingly little progress has been made to date.

It’s clear that the COVID-19 pandemic definitely dealt a blow to employers everywhere. For example, some experts believe a COVID-19 phenomenon known as the “Great Resignation” may be partially to blame for the skills gap continuing and even widening.

In this article, we’ll take a look at the skills gap, the effect of the Great Resignation, and how the current state of work in America might be the perfect opportunity to take steps to once and for all bridge the skills gap. We’ll also explain how the experts at Amatrol can help you begin your own “Great Reskilling” effort to lure new workers and upskill current workers.

How Wide is the Skills Gap?

The “skills gap” is the popular term used to characterize the great divide between the number of open positions in every industry across the country and the insufficient supply of highly-skilled workers suitable for those positions.

The skills gap has resulted in a years-long, ongoing struggle for employers to hire and retain the workers they so desperately need. Many solutions have been suggested, and many efforts have been made to bridge the skills gap. Yet, the skills gap today remains as wide as ever.

According to a recent article from the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), “[t]he manufacturing skills gap in the U.S. could result in 2.1 million unfilled jobs by 2030…[and] [t]he cost of those missing jobs could potentially total $1 trillion in 2030 alone.” These estimates are based upon data from NAM’s latest study with research partner Deloitte.

This data reveals that not much progress, if any, has been made in bridging the skills gap. According to the NAM, “[t]he lack of skilled labor was the industry’s major challenge even before the pandemic, according to the NAM’s quarterly outlook surveys—and this new study shows it’s still a major concern today.”

So how badly did the COVID-19 pandemic affect the skills gap? The study estimates “[a]bout 1.4 million U.S. manufacturing jobs were lost during the early days of the pandemic…setting back the manufacturing labor force by more than a decade.” While many of those jobs have since been recouped, hundreds of thousands of positions remain open.

How difficult is it to find workers these days? “Manufacturers surveyed reported that finding the right talent is now 36% harder than it was in 2018, even though the unemployment rate has nearly doubled the supply of available workers. Executives reported they cannot even fill higher paying entry-level production positions, let alone find and retain skilled workers for specialized roles.”

Looking forward, “77% of manufacturers say they will have ongoing difficulties in attracting and retaining workers.” One reason for this ongoing struggle is the continuing effects of one of the pandemic’s most widespread legacies related to the labor market: the Great Resignation.

What is the Great Resignation?

According to a World Economic Forum article by Stefan Ellerbeck, “[t]he Great Resignation…describes the record number of people leaving their jobs since the beginning of the pandemic.” A Pew Research Center article by Kim Parker and Juliana Menasce Horowitz notes:

“The COVID-19 pandemic set off nearly unprecedented churn in the U.S. labor market. Widespread job losses in the early months of the pandemic gave way to tight labor markets in 2021…The nation’s ‘quit rate’ reached a 20-year high last November.”

Why are so many people choosing to leave their jobs? According to Ellerbeck, “[a]fter an extended period of working from home with no commute, many people have decided their work-life balance has become more important to them.” Parker and Horowitz add that “[a] new Pew Research Center survey finds that low pay, a lack of opportunities for advancement and feeling disrespected at work are the top reasons why Americans quit their jobs last year.”

As the effects of the pandemic continue to wane, will we soon see a reversal of the Great Resignation? Experts say all signs point to “no.” According to Ellerbeck, “[t]his revolution in the world of work appears to be continuing apace, with one in five workers globally planning to quit in 2022.”

In fact, the expert who coined the term “Great Resignation,” organizational psychologist and management professor at Texas A&M University’s Mays Business School, Anthony Klotz, believes “[t]here’s no turning back from the workplace changes brought about by the Great Resignation,” according to a CNBC article by Michelle Fox.

According to Klotz, “[t]he pandemic brought the future of work into the present of work…We are not going back to the world of work in 2019.” If the Great Resignation is here to stay for a while, is there any hope for bridging the skills gap? Fortunately, the answer is yes. Some people believe the lessons learned from the Great Resignation may be exactly what we need to spur the changes that will ultimately solve the problem of the ongoing skills gap.

Could the Great Resignation Also be the Answer to the Skills Gap?

In a recent Forbes article, author Daphne Kris argues that, rather than thinking of the Great Resignation as “a problem in need of a solution, or a crisis that must be endured,” we should instead realize “this moment is also a rare opportunity for businesses and employees to embrace long-overdue changes,” especially when it comes to “corporate culture around employee education.”

Kris notes that the Great Resignation has made employers “newly mindful of the ‘skills gap’” and acknowledges that “the positions that go unfilled the longest involve specific technical proficiencies.” Despite the fact that the Great Resignation has exacerbated the skills gap, she believes it also “offers companies a chance to train workers in digital economy skills designing the workforce they need.”

In fact, Kris argues that right now “is the best upskilling and reskilling opportunity in a generation…Clearly, businesses need to develop and promote their workplaces as an avenue to skill development, allowing employees to cultivate new areas of expertise and develop new proficiencies without leaving.”

Can employees and employers both benefit from a new approach? Kris believes it’s a win-win situation:

“The Great Resignation has spiked workers’ desire to acquire [new] skills. Employees are ready to future-proof their careers, and they are in a moment of reinvention. Additionally, workers at all levels see reskilling as a means to attaining the remote work they increasingly demand. This moment offers a great match between what workers are looking for (regular, institutionalized advancement opportunities and the ability to work in flexible environments) and what employers need for the future (a workforce more highly trained for the digital work world).”

Kris argues that the Great Resignation provides companies with “an opportunity to gain a competitive edge in hiring and retention while upskilling their workforce” if they “aggressively use upskilling and reskilling opportunities to attract top new talent while improving retention.” In summary, she sees a golden opportunity for bridging the skills gap:

“By implementing skills training programs and promoting them as a core benefit, companies can emerge from this period with a highly skilled workforce. Adopting an education mindset can transform the ‘Great Resignation’ into the ‘Reskilling Revolution.’”

How Can Amatrol Help Bridge the Skills Gap?

Employers wanting to take advantage of the Great Resignation to reinvent their company’s culture with regard to upskilling/reskilling employees may see implementing new skills programs as a monumental challenge. Likewise, educational institutions preparing the next generation of workers might also be wondering what skills they should be teaching.

These questions and issues are not new and, fortunately, those faced with making decisions for the future don’t need to recreate the wheel. There are experts out there who can help you take stock of your situation and put you on the right path to preparing current and future workers for the modern industrial workplace.

With more than 30 years of experience designing and manufacturing state-of-the-art training systems, Amatrol remains the world’s leader in skills-based, interactive technical learning for industry and education. What sets Amatrol apart is its dedication to providing comprehensive training solutions that integrate in-depth multimedia eLearning curriculum with hands-on trainers that feature real-world industrial components.

The experts at Amatrol can help you set up your own skills program focused on the areas where people need new or better skills. Amatrol trainers and eLearning curricula cover a wide variety of subject areas from basic electrical, mechanical, and fluid power skills to more advanced topics like HVACR and smart automation technologies.

Consult with an expert at Amatrol today to learn how you can take the first step toward teaching your students or current workers the skills that will set them up for success in the modern workplace.


About Duane Bolin

Duane Bolin is a former curriculum developer and education specialist. He is currently a Marketing Content Developer in the technical training solutions market.

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