“A global jobs war is coming and there is no time to waste. Cities are crumbling for lack of good jobs. Nations are in revolt because their people can’t get good jobs. The cities and countries that act first—that focus everything they have on creating good jobs—are the ones that will win.” - Jim Clifton, Chairman of Gallup and author of The Coming Jobs War.
Today’s shortage of skilled workers began in the last century when the focus on the need for high tech workers for the new industrial revolution became a vision of everyone getting a four-year college education. Technology was “the answer” and while it has proven a true driver for that sector of the economy, today we still see the shortages that were predicted in the late 90s in the engineering and high tech space. Now we are even seeing calls from many of the super successful entrepreneurs that claim that a college education is unnecessary. They just want to see “your code.” The world has changed. Today, we are in a major jobs shortage in all of the skilled trades, not just in the STEM arena. What happened?
Programs like “No Child Left Behind,” charter schools, STEM programs and magnet schools emerged to meet the need that was being unfulfilled by the public school systems. Our kids were being essentially "dumbed down" to the lowest common denominator of education, while simultaneously being shouted at to go to college if they were to be successful in the “new economy.”
We had the demographic numbers that predicted what was about to happen, but we ignored them. In one of the largest school systems in the US, the figures were downright scary. Of 100 students who started the first grade, 50 left school by the 9th grade. Of those kids, only half made it to their graduation day from high school. Of those who graduated high school, only half made it to graduation in four years with most who attended college graduating in 5-8 years due to the pressures of life and the economy. That meant that only 12 out of the original 100 kids ever made it to and through college. We forgot about the other 88 kids.
We forgot about what is being called the “middle skills” jobs, those jobs skills that are needed to support the 88% of kids who didn’t make it to college. Those skills are needed to support the middle class.
Sure, there were vocational schools and “junior colleges” that provided classes for the 88% who weren’t able to go to “real college,” much less to have the opportunity to graduate from high school. However, in recent years, they too have struggled to provide courses and to attract the students needed to fill the skilled worker jobs.
Where was “business” during all this time you might ask? They were out there with “adopt a school” programs and with internships; but even they got focused on the new tech folks, the Gen X and Gen Y workers they would need for their future workforce.
One wise sage once told me that it takes a crisis to move folks to action and if you don’t have one today, just wait a year or two and one will emerge. As the old saying goes, “The future that you ordered has arrived.” The economic crash and the demographic of the “pig in the snake” both have arrived.
We knew that it would happen. We just ignored the signs. It was predicted. To make things even worse, the influx of illegal immigrants and the screwed up politics surrounding that issue have exacerbated the problem. Now what? Well, one major city, Houston, and one business organization, the Greater Houston Partnership, have begun to address the “middle skills” issue. We know that the creation of jobs, the availability of skilled workers and a quality of life will determine the future of the cities of this country. The GHP announced “UpSkill Houston”, a program that is “a comprehensive, industry-led approach to bridge the gap and fill jobs in the middle-skills occupations.” The program was the output of the Regional Workforce Development Task Force, a team of 79 members from large employers, workforce, and employment, education and social services. The GHP task force utilized TIP Strategies, an Austin based strategic planning and economic development firm, to develop their 7 step action plan for 2020 and beyond.
Houston has awakened to the crisis and has set about doing something for the future. Other cities had better wake up and start creating middle-skills jobs for the future, especially if they expect to compete and not fail like Detroit.
To paraphrase Clifton, we need to start looking at every young person in kindergarten as a “start up” and begin treating them like they are our future, because they are.
To learn more, read the UpSkill Houston report: Addressing Houston's Middle Skills Jobs Challenges.