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Viewpoint: How Do We Fix America's Skills Gap?

  • Publication: 
    Boston Business Journal
    Publication Date: 
    Friday, October 23, 2015

    By Dorothy Stoneman

    It’s no secret a skills mismatch is holding back American businesses and jobseekers. Millions in this country remain out of work or underemployed, yet more than 5 million jobs remain unfilled in the U.S. Some 45 percent of employers say a lack of skills is the leading reason for entry-level vacancies, according to a recent McKinsey survey.

    Meanwhile, there are nearly 6 million young men and women ages 16 to 24 who are currently unemployed and out of school who have the potential to fill these jobs. This demographic is lately called “opportunity youth” because they are both seeking opportunity as well as offering an opportunity to society if we invest in them. Many face challenges such as being born into poverty, leaving high school without a diploma, and/or having criminal records for minor offenses.

    Faced with these realities, what can our nation do to repair our broken labor market and better match all Americans with opportunities? One solution is simple: invest in all of our talent.

    As the CEO of YouthBuild USA Inc., which serves as the national support center for a network of over 260 local YouthBuild programs, I know the power of working with young adults who desperately seek a chance to break the chains of poverty. Not only do young adults lift themselves up when treated with respect, love, and offered a proven comprehensive approach, but whole communities are lifted up with them. YouthBuild graduate Michael Donnelly is a moving illustration. Michael became a father when he was only a junior in high school. He subsequently dropped out and worked odd jobs to support his family, but became gang-involved, and ended up sentenced to three months in county jail. The judge, recognizing the value of a second chance, allowed Michael to participate in the local YouthBuild while he served his time. In the 15 years since he completed the comprehensive education, job training, community service, and leadership development program at YouthBuild, he has served as street/gang outreach worker, youth interventionist for a public school, and now adviser to the police department on community relations. His three teenage sons are succeeding in school and college.

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    By Dorothy Stoneman is CEO and founder of YouthBuild USA Inc., member of Rework America, and co-author of America’s Moment: Creating Opportunity in the Connected Age.