Building a Pipeline of Future Talent

By Jennifer Schramm Oct 1, 2012
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1012cover.gifYouth unemployment and skills shortages are driving some business leaders to get more involved in the education of the future workforce. Often, they focus on the need to prepare young people for jobs in industries and professions that are growing the fastest.

Very high levels of youth unemployment have been a key characteristic of the post-recession, low-growth global economic environment. The latest findings from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) reveal just how devastating the recession was worldwide.

The youth unemployment rate among the 34 OECD member countries in March was 17.1 percent. In the United States, the rate was 16.4 percent.

These numbers pale in comparison to those in European countries caught up in the eurozone debt crisis. The youth unemployment rates in March in Spain and Greece stood at a whopping 51.1 percent and 51.2 percent, respectively.

Although the U.S. youth unemployment rate is nowhere near these crisis levels, it is still a concern. The debate over what to do about it often comes down to this: Is the problem that there just aren’t enough jobs—or at least what might be considered "good jobs"—or is it that many entrants to the labor market lack the kinds of skills and qualifications today’s jobs demand?

The answer is likely a bit of both. Clearly, technology has automated and thus eliminated many jobs that once were plentiful—especially in manufacturing. But technology has been a driving force behind greater job specialization and the need for employees with more technical skills.

In response, some business leaders are getting involved in initiatives that develop students’ skills and boost their employability and access to "good jobs" in growing fields.

When Amazon recently announced its new employee education reimbursement program, it emphasized that "Amazon will exclusively fund education only in areas that are well-paying and in high demand … and the company will fund those areas regardless of whether those skills are relevant to a career at Amazon."

Elsewhere, business leaders are getting directly involved in schools. Recently, New York City built the Academy for Software Engineering, a new public high school supported by the direct help of many leaders from tech industry companies such as Google, eBay, Facebook and FourSquare.

It may be that these kinds of initiatives will be limited to fields, such as high tech, where the need for skilled technicians and professionals is highest. For several years running now, employers have appeared to be investing less in educational reimbursement benefits, the Society for Human Resource Management’s employee benefits survey reports show.

Yet all employers want to ensure that their businesses will have access to a pipeline of qualified workers in the future. Many business leaders are passionate about education and job quality in the communities where they do business. Their influence on U.S. education could be far-reaching.

The author is manager of the Workplace Trends and Forecasting program at SHRM.

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