Filling the Gap

Filling the Gap

by Cliff Lynch
17. December 2013 09:45

As we approach the end of another year, it appears that the economy is continuing its slow route to recovery. This week there was some good news on the employment front. Job openings rose to almost 4 million, or 2.9 unemployed workers for every opening. While this is not exactly full employment, it is significantly better than the 7 to 1 ratio of 2009. According to the Associated Press, the typical ratio is 2 to 1. Why then is the unemployment rate stuck at 7% - and even higher in many cities?

The reason is pretty basic. There is a mismatch between the candidates and the openings. As manufacturing firms and distribution centers have become much more sophisticated and turned to robotics and other automated processes, it has become more difficult to find qualified employees. Although many of the unemployed are anxious to work, they simply are not qualified for the new positions they are being asked to fill. What many cities need, but lack, are sound technical education programs in the high schools that are focused on the industries that are predominant in their communities. Several firms have moved into cities where there was a satisfactory total labor pool, but found that the available workers were not qualified for the jobs they needed to fill.

Fifty years ago, the educational system recognized the importance of technical or trade high schools, and almost every city of over 300,000 population had at least one. They were well attended by those who leaned toward the blue collar occupations, or wanted a technical background to supplement their college educations. While the curriculum of such a school today would be quite different than that of 50 years ago, what better place to learn about robotics and other automated processes? There are excellent technical schools in existence today, but most are operated for profit. What we need is technical education that would be funded by the various school systems and available to all regardless of their ability to pay. Education is not the job of the Chamber of Commerce or economic development boards. Education that is relevant to the communities in which we live whether technical or otherwise, should be the goal of school systems everywhere.

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