It’s Smart to Link Federal Education and Employment Efforts



The Trump Administration's proposal to combine the Department of Labor with the Department of Education may seem on its face like a smaller-government effort to reduce redundancy and create efficiency. But for our nation’s employers and workers, it could contain solutions to one of the most serious problems facing our nation: the growing tsunami of workforce skill shortages that threatens our global competitiveness and our economic future.

Basically, America’s workforces are not prepared to do the jobs of tomorrow, or even today.

As the world’s largest HR professional association, the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), has not taken a position on the Administration’s proposal itself, because few details have been released. However, there is clearly a nexus between U.S. education policy and the workplace. In principle, SHRM supports better alignment between education and employment—the “two Es” as we call it.

No matter their industry, size or wealth, today’s organizations all share the same challenge—filling the widening skills gap. Here’s what that gap looked like in 2016, and it’s only grown larger:

  • 68% of HR professionals across industries reported challenging recruiting conditions.
  • Organizations cited factors such as a low number of applicants (51%), lack of the needed work experience among candidates (50%) and competition from other employers (49%) as reasons for difficulty finding candidates for their open positions.
  • 84% of HR professionals reported seeing applied skills shortages in job applicants over the last 12 months.

Thanks to low unemployment rates and an accelerating economy, the “War for Talent” is now a way of life. CEOs tell me it is harder to access human capital than financial capital—money can’t buy a skilled workforce that is essentially missing.

So, we must focus on tomorrow, and creating a pipeline of people with the competencies—both technical and “soft”­­—to enter our workforce over the next decade. Employers and educators play equally critical roles in workforce development, so we want them talking to each other and working as an effective team.

The federal government can make it easier for employers, K-12 providers and higher education to collaborate on needs assessments, educational partnerships, curriculum development, apprenticeships, internships and other innovative approaches that provide learning and working experiences.

The discussion about bringing together labor and education policy is happening all over the world. For the past several years, SHRM has participated in the Employment and Education Task Force of the B20, which feeds recommendations to the G20. Alignment of the two Es has come on the global radar just recently, but many countries are already moving in this direction. The U.S. cannot be left behind.

A merger of the Departments of Labor and Education may not be the silver bullet, but it is an intriguing idea that opens a larger and acutely needed conversation. We can do more to create effective, robust systems that enable educators to prepare students for the jobs of the future, and our nation’s industries to access the talent they need to grow, compete and thrive in the global marketplace.

Whatever shape it takes, linking education and employment is smart U.S. policy. SHRM looks forward to participating in the discussion.





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