By: Treva Richardson, Human Resources Director

In a recent article by Kathy Gurchiek and posted on the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) website, the topic of discussion was the mismatch between the types of skills employers are looking for and the types of candidates that the educational system is producing. Hilda Solis, U.S. Labor Secretary, said that this is one reason that unemployment is so high even as employers claim they are struggling to find workers.

There are not as many jobs being created as in the past years. On average there are more than 4.7 people typically applying for the same job. The competition is tough and applicants more than ever have to be prepared for the job they are seeking.

Secretary Solis was a speaker during the “The Workforce Mosaic,” held July 12, 2011 in Washington, DC. “We do need to do a better job at providing curriculum that’s more adaptable to what is happening on the floor of the assembly line or manufacturing unit or the lab. Those are the things we haven’t done well,” Solis said. She did qualify that statement by saying that community colleges are starting to do a better job.

Solis also spoke regarding the major demographic shift that is occurring which includes older workers. Many older workers have lost jobs that will never come back. Secretary Solis stressed that knowledge transfer between older and younger workers and the revival of apprenticeship programs to help transition workers into the work environment they desire would be an important step in coordinating to meet employer’s needs.

Immigration reform and education and training should not take a back seat when trying to move forward with workforce development. “This is not the time to be cutting back on education and training,” she said and “the implications for jobless young adults is “troubling.”
It is important to note that internships are a type of training. If a person is fortunate to receive an internship with a company, the message that should be given to the intern is that this is not just a number of hours needed for graduation or a summer job. This is a job interview.

As employers, we are seeing a large number of desperate people looking for jobs. Some are over qualified and are excluded. Others don’t have the right skill set. Is it possible for managers and human resources professionals to be more realistic in their candidate wish list? While a person with three to five years experience might be ideal for a particular job, would it be possible to hire two-less qualified candidates to groom for success?

In an effort to assist clients in the Families First program which WorkForce Essentials is contracted to administer by the State of Tennessee, we carved out a job position for Office Assistant Interns, to allow them opportunity to gain office skills. Workforce Essentials supports internships from colleges in Public Management, Accounting, Human Resources, and Social Services. We have teachers in eight high schools within the local workforce who are teaching the Jobs for Tennessee Graduate Program (JTG) to seniors. This program is to encourage graduation for at risk youth, and help them as they transition into the “world of work.” Although these initiatives are small in comparison to the problem, it is a step in the right direction. Just as no man is an island, no one program, educational facility, or employer can meet the needs of our community.

As a part of the Workforce Development System, and at a local level, I would propose the following questions to solicit a response from employers and educational administrators:

• What are employers in our local labor market seeking in employees?
• Where is the disconnect between education and the needs of employers?
• In what ways can the local workforce investment areas and career centers better meet the employer’s needs?
• What value would on-site apprenticeship programs provide to employers or would it be an option?

We are very interested in your response.