When the issue of workforce development comes up, as it has quite frequently recently, it’s typically chambers of commerce, community colleges, social service agencies, publicly-funded state agencies, and school systems who are actively involved. Without doubt these organizations play a vital role in workforce development initiatives. But what about employers’ associations? The answer is an unequivocal yes, employers’ associations should be– and are–very involved with workforce development initiatives at the local, state, and national level.
Two workforce-related studies were released recently—the “21st Century Workforce: Central Illinois,” a local study, and the “Manufacturing Skills Gap 2001,” a nationwide study conducted by the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM). It comes as no surprise there are many similarities between the findings of the two studies—from workforce issues such as the emergent aging American workforce and the lack of basic education and employability skills, to the fact American employers and workforces must be highly productive and flexible to prosper.
In a third study of industrial companies, “The Skills Gap. The Shortage of Qualified Workers: A Growing Challenge to the American Economy,” conducted by the consulting firm of Grant Thornton for the Center for Workforce Success at NAM, the findings are much the same as the first two:
- Eighty-eight percent of responding manufacturers reported difficulties in finding qualified candidates in a least one job function, from unskilled production-line positions to highly technical computer programmer slots.
- Sixty percent of manufacturers typically rejected between 50 to 100 percent of applicants as unqualified, lacking both relevant skills and work experience.
- Half to two-thirds of respondents said incumbent non-exempt workers possess serious deficiencies in math skills, oral and written communications, and basic employability skills such as timeliness.
- Twenty percent of the companies said such inflective skills prevent them from expanding, and one-third said such deficiencies make them unable to improve productivity.
CEOs and other leaders of state and local general membership employer associations (EA being one of 68) affiliated with NAM—the members of the NAM’s Employer and State Associations Groups—echoed these concerns in a fourth survey:
- More than two-thirds of the associations ranked “hiring, retaining and maintaining the skills of the workforce” as the No. 1 problem facing their members, with 85 percent saying employers were forced to hire non-traditional populations.
- Almost 80 percent believed school systems aren’t doing a good job of preparing students for entry into the workplace. Two-thirds believed local public job-training programs aren’t doing a good job of preparing the disadvantaged for jobs.
- Eight out of 10 associations said they experienced “some” or “a lot” of demand from their members for help in upgrading the skills of incumbent entry-level workers and in getting involved in school-to-career programs. Almost half said they experienced such demands for help in hiring, training, and retaining hard-to-employ populations like long-term unemployed, welfare recipients, and inner-city youth.
Employers’ associations are well positioned at the local, state, and national level to be a part of the solution in this workforce dilemma. At the local level, EA already works with members to help them maximize their human resources through the various services offered, but this alone is not enough to turn the tide facing employers today.
As suggested over and over again, it is going to take a lot of collaboration among the many different groups to develop and implement strategies to improve workforce capabilities. EA is committed to being a part of the solution. IBI