Last Friday, SHRM hosted its State of the Workplace webinar, which focused heavily on the ever-increasing American skills gap. Johnny C. Taylor Jr., president and CEO of SHRM, asked the 7,000 viewers to rethink how they hire. Currently, there are 7 million unfilled jobs and 6.5 million Americans looking for work, he said. Two-thirds of employers find it hard to recruit for in-demand jobs, which widens the skills gap, and will eventually make the situation unsustainable.
Taylor said workforce development must be a priority for businesses (and the current presidential administration) through investment in apprenticeships, internships and other opportunities that provide learning and working experience. He called upon educators and employers to work together to reverse the skills gap through continuous training and credentialing programs, and to tap into previously untapped talent: veterans, people with criminal histories and those with disabilities.
Taylor then spoke with Jim Clifton, chairman and CEO of Gallup, to explore these workplace trends in detail. After discussing the five generations in the workforce and tailoring benefits to meet the needs of individuals within the generations, Taylor asked how can the president and congress help close the skills gap.
“I tell our clients don’t look to Washington. Go to work and figure it out yourself,” said Clifton. He added that the answers are in the communities in which businesses work–from finding previously untapped talent to discovering what a livable wage really is for your workforce.
He mentioned that Gallup has found tremendous talent throughout Washington that other companies passed over.
“I think there’s a lot more talent around, but we have to change the whole education system,” said Clifton. “We’re too slow on maximizing the potential of these kids.”
Taylor and Clifton agreed that K-12 education needs to be reformed, but so do managers. Clifton said American leaders aren’t great at professional development. Rather than examine someone’s strengths, “we start working on weaknesses–‘Here’s why you’re terrible’–I [the manager] become the leading authority on what’s wrong with you,” he said. “We have to hold managers accountable. If [an employee’s] development isn’t exploding, it’s the managers fault.”
He noted that only 30 percent of the American workforce is engaged, a low number attributed to managers. He said if that number could reach 50 or 60 percent, “our economy will boom, and we’ll dominate the world.”
Business leaders have two jobs, added Clifton, to create real economic growth in the company and human development–the latter of which we’re not great at, but it’s fixable.
“It is fixable, it’s an exciting time for me because HR matters in a very special way,” said Taylor. “This nothing of a profession from times past is now so powerful–strong HR can make a strong culture and make America competitive … if we transform work, we have the capacity to facilitate true societal change.”