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As a business owner and the mother of two young adults entering the workforce, I believe our future as a productive and thriving economy cannot wait.  Our opportunities for sustainable economic growth rely on the attention we give to tomorrow’s workforce – today.

skills gap

Today, the path to doing better than the generation before is not as clear cut because the point of entry for young adults has become more elusive. As the CEO of The Northridge Group, a management consulting firm specializing in customer experience solutions and business transformation initiatives, I have a unique vantage point into the talent pipeline in our country and, from where I stand, it needs to be tapped from a different source.

I observe a population of young people who are challenged in so many different and contradictory ways. Millions of young adults are lacking access to higher education and a path toward careers that allow them to earn a living wage—while employers report increased difficulty finding qualified applicants who possess the fundamental skills needed to do the jobs that are available.  This phenomenon of jobs and skills being misaligned is known as a “skills gap,” and recently much has been written on the subject.  In 2016, the Business Roundtable, an association of U.S. chief executive officers, surveyed its members. More than half of the responding CEOs reported “that talent gaps are already problematic or very problematic for their industries.” It is true there is renewed demand for domestic manufacturing in our country but a “skills gap” has become a barrier to filling those open jobs.

So, as business leaders, what can we do to help turn the tide?

It begins with education. There is no better example of proactively bridging the “skills gap” than with STEM programs in Middle Schools and High Schools. STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) implements an interdisciplinary approach to integrate these subjects, rather than teaching them separately. These programs not only prepare young adults with the skills they need to enter today’s workforce, but help them understand how they can continue to adapt to change during the course of their career. For example, Northwestern University’s Center for Talent Development (CTD) recognized 15 academically advanced middle-school students as Cathy Coughlin STEM Scholars this year. The Cathy Coughlin STEM Scholarship sponsors 6th–8th grade Chicago-area girls who are passionate about science, technology, engineering and math. The program provides recipients with year-round talent development opportunities, enabling each student to enroll in CTD’s Summer Program on the Northwestern campus and to continue her STEM education by participating in a credit-bearing accelerated or enrichment course during the school year.

Programs like these, in addition to internships, job shadowing, mentoring and apprenticeship courses are all simple ways we can create opportunity and develop our talent pipeline—starting in our own organizations and our own communities.

Let’s start a conversation. What ideas do you have on how to bridge the skills gap?

skills gap fact

*Analysis of the American Workforce | Adecco