Another fascinating article in the December 2012 issue of HBR (besides the one on Kiva Systems, which I described in my previous post) is Who can fix the middle-skills gap? whose focus is the “acute shortage of trained people to fill millions of openings for technical jobs.”
The authors (two professors of management at MIT and the senior vice president for lifelong learning at Rutgers University) argue that forward-looking local initiatives exhibit at least one of the following attributes:
- cooperation between multiple employers in the region or industry sector and with educational institutions,
- opportunities to apply classroom concepts in actual or simulated work settings,
- a focus on training for a career pathway, not just skills for the initial job.
They provide detailed guidelines for program models, with a review of apprenticeships and other union-employer programs as well as sector-based regional initiatives and higher-education consortia with strong industry ties, spanning community colleges, internships and cooperative education, as well as online education.
The issue in making these ideas a reality will be to find advocates with the will and the acumen to bring business leaders and university administrators together and negotiate the multi-pronged partnerships described in the article. The region that can implement successfully such programs will benefit from an enormous advantage in positioning itself as a vibrant economic area producing workers highly in demand.
What the country needs now is a group of individual government champions held accountable to create such consortia – instead of vague groups of shifting or unclear leadership supposed to help somehow, or money incentives thrown at the problem. Then maybe we’ll see on a large scale the sort of collaborative approach that has the potential of strengthening US competitiveness and reducing income disparity.