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Four in 10 American employers are struggling to find workers with the right skills for at least some of their vacancies, according to a new survey of 850 companies. That's despite a 6.7 percent unemployment rate and remote working broadening the talent pool for many roles.
Employers need to be “implementing reskilling programs to gain a competitive edge as they recover from the pandemic,” said Mike Smith, global CEO of Randstad Sourceright, which commissioned the survey.
While nine out of 10 companies agree it is their role to reskill employees, pressure is building on governments to step in to help level the training playing field, including from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Labor market experts worry that unemployed and temporary workers are at risk of falling behind their permanently employed peers.
Digital skills mismatches the fastest-growing problem
The top 10 in-demand roles listed by a World Economic Forum Future of Jobs Report are all tech-related — but they’re also the jobs employers are finding most difficult to fill.
“Covid has brought digital transitions forward in all disciplines, in all sectors,” Constantijn van Oranje told the Global Translations podcast. As envoy of Techleap.nl, a nonprofit funded by the Dutch government to help digital companies start and grow in the Netherlands, it's his job to help entrepreneurs find the talent they need to build a business, but he said millions of jobs could go unfilled in the coming years.
Four in 10 American employers report problems filling tech roles, double the rate of companies struggling to hire finance and accounting specialists. It's a similar story across Asia, where “businesses here have struggled to find qualified people in growth areas,” according to Ahmed Mazhari, president of Microsoft Asia.
Zoë Baird, president of the Markle Foundation, told the Global Translations podcast that individual workers aren't to blame: They've simply started careers based on education that often lacks "digital literacy.”
Van Oranje wants to see more investment in digital skills across the board, starting in schools, but said mindsets have to change too. While countries like Finland and Estonia have put digital skills at the core of their education systems, “most of our teachers have the opposite profile from the entrepreneur,” he said. “They are process thinkers, they are risk averse. Entrepreneurs are very outcome focused, more project minded and not process minded. They like risks.”
Baird’s foundation established the Rework America Alliance in the early stage of the Covid-19 pandemic to improve the career options of unemployed and low-wage workers. “Even jobs like janitors have had a change in the digital skills that are required,” Baird said. In The Digital Blind Spot, Baird's foundation argued that K-12 schools, adult education providers and colleges must all be involved in improving America’s digital skills base.
At the same time, many workers could move into “adjacent jobs with higher wages” with minimal "rapid and affordable training" and a repackaging of their existing skills, Baird said. Baird is working with Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta and McKinsey to pinpoint in-demand jobs in coming years, to give individual workers better data for matching their skills to those growth areas. “If you are someone who learned to take apart a car engine in your neighbor's garage, you're a fabulous candidate to repair robots,” she said.
Risks of further inequality among workers
Baird and van Oranje agree that new skills and training efforts must focus on delivering equal opportunities. Baird said ”people who have been in what have been considered blue collar jobs are the ones who've gotten hammered” during the Covid-19 recession, while van Oranje warned: “if we are growing the tech sector and the tech sector is only accessible by white, male, high educated people, then we will obviously fail miserably.”
“It is just very, very apparent that you have to really give specific attention to this," otherwise market forces alone "will further exacerbate the segregation that is already there.”
Van Oranje, who is the younger brother of the Dutch king, said “we need to be very careful that the privileged of today are not even more entitled in the future because of their starting positions.”