February 3, 2013

Employers need 'middle skills'

I recently had the opportunity to sit on a panel at a New York State Economic Development Council conference. Melinda Mack, the executive director of the New York Association of Training and Employment Professionals and Karen Springmeier, the executive director of the Finger Lakes Workforce Investment Board were also on the panel. 

They are two of the most knowledgeable and dedicated workforce professionals I know.

Our topic was “New York’s Middle Skills Gap: How Do We Meet the Challenge?”

A middle skill job is one that requires more than a high school diploma but less than a bachelor’s degree. In other words, some level of post-secondary education or training such as an associate’s degree, a vocational certificate, significant on-the-job-training or an apprenticeship. Jobs in advanced manufacturing and computer technology are a few examples of middle skill jobs as are emergency medical technicians and registered nurses.

The middle skills gap refers to gap between the skill levels currently existing in an organization compared to the skill levels it needs to achieve its goals. Without the proper mix of skills, an organization can neither grow nor remain competitive.

It’s an important topic when you consider that the United States Department of Labor (USDOL) predicts that nearly half of the new job openings in the next 10 years will be middle skill jobs. Unfortunately, high school students in New York face significant challenges in meeting the basic skill attainment needed for middle skill jobs, and the education projections don’t indicate that this will change in the short-term. When you realize that more than 50 percent of the jobs in New York require middle skills and fewer than 40 percent of the workforce have middle skills, you begin to understand why it’s an important topic.

Unbelievably, there are people who don’t believe there is such a thing as the middle skills gap. I think they’re the same people who believe the government is hiding aliens in Area 51 or that the 1969 moon landing really took place on a sound stage in Hollywood.

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