Last year, the Bridgespan Group identified the “skills gap” between American workers and available jobs as one place where billion-dollar bets from philanthropy could have major impact. It’s not hard to see why. As Microsoft president Brad Smith puts it, “There are 7.3 million fewer jobs in the United States today for people with a high school degree or less than there were in 1989. At the same time, 6 million jobs in our country go unfilled due in large part to a shortage of skilled workers.”
We’ve written a lot on this subject, looking at which funders are seeking to close the skills gap and what they’re up to. This is a super hot area of philanthropy right now, but it’s also challenging terrain. Where are all these unfilled positions? And how can would-be workers, armed in many cases with only a high school diploma, develop the necessary skill sets and locate opportunities?
Those are questions that have preoccupied the Markle Foundation since 2015, when it pledged an initial $50 million to its ReWork America initiative, a tech-driven effort to connect employers with job-seekers. In 2016, Markle partnered with LinkedIn and Microsoft to create Skillful, a platform dedicated to filling “middle-skills” jobs in sectors like healthcare, the trades, logistics, and other STEM-focused areas. Such jobs are a focal point for many funders right now, since they often pay decent wages and offer upward pathways for workers who haven’t completed four-year college degrees. Markle reports that as of January, over 1,400 job seekers and 90 local firms have worked with Skillful.