Get Ready for a Pending Jobs Crisis (Commentary)

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Higher rates of unemployment in Arkansas and across the United States are getting lost of the attention as we endure the economic slowdown or even recession.

The underlying fundamentals of the labor force, from demographics to education and skill levels, indicate we would be wise to start looking ahead to the startling likelihood that we won’t be able to find enough qualified employees for our businesses.

After reading “The 2010 Meltdown: Solving the Impending Jobs Crisis” by Edward E. Gordon, I had a flashback to a decade ago when I learned about the shortage of technology-skilled workers during the tech boom and the Y2K phenomenon.

We began to make progress with higher student enrollments in technology-related fields; then tech companies started laying off workers and outsourcing jobs overseas.

A sense of urgency was lost – mistakenly.

Gordon uses an array of statistics and reports to explain how the U.S. and the rest of the world must transform our educational systems and our cultures if we want to continue to grow the world economy and our standard of living. Furthermore, failure to do so will wipe out the middle class.

UALR Chancellor Joel Anderson’s guest commentary in a recent edition of Arkansas Business outlined several of Gordon’s findings, and Gordon will be at the conference to share the highlights. The conference coincides with Gov. Mike Beebe pushing state agencies and colleges to take work force education initiatives to an even higher level.

The premise of Gordon’s book is rather depressing, to be honest.

We face severe shortages of health care workers, engineers, air traffic controllers and pilots. Even worse, we’re going to be short on educators at all levels.

Even if government, colleges and businesses work together to create educational opportunities and provide financial assistance to make them affordable, we still face a significant cultural issue.

Parents of every socioeconomic status and race must guide their children to the opportunities and raise their expectations for their educational attainment.

Right now, it’s hard to start discussions on the value of higher education because half our freshman college students need remedial coursework.

One of our important goals has to be increasing the number of bachelor degrees, but Gordon also notes that 42 percent of the high-growth, entry-level jobs in the next 10 years can be filled with associate degrees or skilled training that require less time commitment and money.

Gordon says a high school diploma, once considered “the admission ticket for the road to success,” has become “a hollow symbol that guarantees little or nothing -neither college success nor the opportunity for a good job.”

Businesses must promote career education programs and sell students on the benefits and urgency of an education that is only beginning at the secondary level.

Culturally, he says, the work force can no longer be divided into the traditional groups of white-collar managers and professionals and blue-collar manual laborers.

The new class of “gold-collar” skilled technology worker combines a liberal arts education with advanced technical know-how.

With a limited supply of smart, educated people during the impending jobs crisis, companies will be forced to become creative in their recruitment and retainment efforts.

Family-friendly company initiatives will become more mainstream because Generation X and Generation Y workers want to balance meaningful careers with life outside the workplace.

How is your company positioned to deal with the impending labor shortages?

Are you ready to influence the shifts in culture?

I hope you’ll join us for the conference and discussion on Feb. 13.     

(Jeff Hankins is the publisher of Arkansas Business, He can be reached via e-mail at [email protected].)