Employers Must Play a Role in Workforce Development

Roy Maurer By Roy Maurer July 27, 2016
​​As part of SHRM's "Year of Advocacy," staff members of SHRM and the Council for Global Immigration (CFGI), led by President and CEO Hank Jackson, attended the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia after attending the Republican National Convention in Cleveland the previous week. SHRM was the only human resources organization attending these events, representing 285,000 SHRM members.

  • For SHRM's complete coverage of the 2016 Republican National Convention, click​ here.​​​​​​​
  • For SHRM's complete coverage of the 2016 Democratic National Convention, click​ here.​​​​​​​

PHILADELPHIA—Employers have an urgent responsibility to re-examine their investment in workforce development in order to close the skills gap, said a panel of legislators, business leaders and thought leaders July 26 at the Democratic National Convention.  

Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) President and CEO Henry G. "Hank" Jackson spoke at the event sponsored by SHRM and centrist think tank Third Way.

The demand for information technology has increased the need for knowledge- and technology-intensive skills.

Posted by Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) on Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Various occupations are adapting to working in the digital age, but education and workforce development systems often struggle to prepare the 21st-century workforce, the panelists noted.

"Two-thirds of HR professionals are having a tough time recruiting skilled workers," Jackson said, citing recent SHRM research. "The skills shortage in the U.S. is a growing problem and will take innovative efforts of government, educational institutions and employers."  

Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., explained that Fortune 100 CEOs are under intense pressure from institutional investors, who are more demanding than ever for strong quarterly results, to disinvest in workforce training. Consequently, less and less corporate revenue is invested in workforce development. But Warner said that public-private partnerships could potentially address the skills gap. He suggested a review of the rules around corporate governance and investment.

"As policymakers, we need to rethink the whole standpoint around investing in human capital. How do we get a tax structure that incents workforce training? Unless we find a way to make our free enterprise system work for a broader group of people, political outrage is understandable," he said.

Part of the gap is filled by skilled workers from other countries, said Rebecca Peters, director of government affairs at the Council for Global Immigration, a SHRM affiliate.

"While U.S. employers continue to educate and train the U.S. worker pipeline, there is a need for talent and immigration reform," Peters said. "Here at the DNC there is an effort underway to address reform next year because there is an understanding that immigrants do strengthen our economy and grow jobs."

Internal corporate programs may be one way to close the gap. A prominent part of Microsoft's internal workforce development is a variety of programs under the umbrella phrase "employability and entrepreneurship." These programs teach employees computers skills and give job seekers end-to-end career guidance, upskilling, job-matching and mentorship, said Microsoft President and Chief Legal Officer Brad Smith.

"There's an obvious public-sector role that involves broadening the skills people are learning, but the private sector has to embrace its responsibility to invest in the education of our employees," Smith said. Responding to a common fear that trained employees will then leave the company, he asked whether it might be worse if untrained workers stay.

Tony West, executive vice president of government affairs, general counsel and corporate secretary for Pepsi, spoke about the professional development opportunities offered through PepsiCo University. 

"We give our associates the chance to grow professionally through regular training and career development tools to help them achieve their performance objectives," he said.

PepsiCo University offers a number of ways for front-line employees and executives to boost their soft skills and their professional skills in the areas of leadership development, global business relations, IT, procurement, finance and customer management, among others.  

The company launched HR University in 2012, which covers human resource topics such as organizational design, business analytics and workforce planning.

"What companies are doing [is] great but may not be scalable," Jackson said. "I applaud my industry colleagues for their programs, but a comprehensive approach is needed to address this issue." Jackson said that a larger partnership with the federal government will be necessary and recommended a greater use of apprenticeship programs to address the skills gap issue.



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