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Investing in STEM Education Can Bridge the IT Skills Gap

The author of a new book on the technology skills gap explains how educators can guide students toward a brighter employment future.

I've heard many times that the skills gap is a fabrication. But with nearly 12 million Americans unemployed and another 11 million underemployed, according to recent numbers from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, it's clear that there's a bewildering labor phenomenon occurring in this country: In the post–"Great Recession" recovery, the number of unfilled ­positions has climbed dramatically — to nearly 4 million.

Economists say that shouldn't happen. They reason that as the country's unemployment rate remains stubbornly high — and hourly wages and the length of the workweek ­remain stable — the number of job postings should decline because ­employers either aren't hiring or don't have to advertise for open positions because potential employees will find them on their own.

Welcome to the "skills gap."

The American Society for Training and Development defines a skills gap as "a significant gap between an ­organization's current capabilities and the skills it needs to achieve its goals … the point at which an organization can no longer grow or remain competitive because it cannot fill critical jobs with employees who have the right knowledge, skills and abilities."

There's plenty of evidence to ­support the gap's existence. According to the global compensation research firm PayScale's "2013 Compensation Best Practices Report," 67 percent of companies are having a hard time filling skilled job positions. Sixty-one percent said the top reason for that was a lack of qualified job applicants.

The IT industry association CompTIA's 2012 State of the IT Skills Gap survey, meanwhile, reports that 93 percent of employers believe there's a gap between "existing and desired skill levels" among their IT staff, particularly in such areas as security/cybersecurity, network infrastructure and Big Data.

How to Solve It

The six years of research I invested in writing my book, The U.S. Technology Skills Gap, has convinced me that the skills gap is very real.

As social media, mobility, analytics and cloud technologies continue their rapid deployment in organizations of all types, the gap will emerge (if it hasn't already) in each of them. Employers can narrow it by making education a core part of their culture, and I don't mean just training and development in new technology.

IT staff is ranked 3rd on a list of the 10 hardest jobs to fill in 2012, up from 6th in 2011.

SOURCE: "2012 Talent Shortage Survey" (ManpowerGroup, May 2012)

It's important to also ramp up training and development efforts in the "soft" skills. The Institute for the Future's "Future Work Skills 2020" report singles out novel and adaptive thinking, virtual collaboration, new media literacy, and cross-cultural communication, among other skills in this category. I believe strongly that these skills are more ­important than basic math and science literacy.

According to the U.S. Department of Education's National Assessment of Educational Progress, almost 70 percent of the nation's schoolchildren are rated "less than proficient" in math and science. Although kids in the U.S. enjoy their gadgets, the vast majority of them believe math and science aren't relevant to their lives. Most haven't connected the career dots to understand that proficiency in those subjects is the bridge to innovation, invention and well-paying jobs.

And that's where we come in.

Imagine if each of us took the time to mentor a young person and help him or her see the incredible upside to a career in information technology. The skills gap is real — and it's getting wider by the year. Let's work together to bridge it for the next generation.

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Jul 05 2013 Spice IT

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