Closing the Gap between “Help Wanted” and “Work Needed”

Glenn Hamer

March 25, 2016

The Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry is one of seven partners in a national initiative changing the way we meet workforce needs across the country. Arizona’s efforts to engage industry leaders in closing the skills gap were on full display this week at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation conference on Talent Pipeline Management (TPM). This unique approach shakes up the tired workforce strategy of old by calling on employers to directly engage in developing demand-driven, employer-led solutions to tackle the skills gap.

We already know the problem: universally our education and workforce development systems are turning out 20th century employees for 21st century jobs. As a result we have people without jobs and jobs without people, and there’s a real disconnect between the two. According to the U.S. Department of Labor there are 5.5 million unfilled jobs and 49 percent of employers say they are unable to fill many positions because of a lack of skilled workers. That gap will only widen if we don’t get serious about meeting the talent needs of today’s dynamic employers. Fortunately, Arizona is leading the way on a number of fronts, which Governor Ducey highlighted as the conference keynote speaker, and I emphasized in a panel discussion with other partners.

As “end-users”, employers have a huge stake in education. It only makes sense that the business community would have a loud voice in sharing the skills and preparation they require of students coming out of our education and workforce training institutions. Once we know the demand, we can tailor our education systems to make sure we’re producing a talent pool that is able to meet today’s business needs. Again, it just makes sense.

The Governor’s newly announced Office of Economic Opportunity is already applying this type of approach by assembling an in-house team (or Geek Squad as he calls it) that responds to real-time employer needs, connecting them with individuals that possess the required technical skills and training. The Governor also reshaped his Workforce Arizona Council to include high-level executives from companies that are changing the face of Arizona’s economy. Given this opportunity to lead, employers responded by showing up to tackle the state’s workforce needs.

These are two great examples of TPM principles in action, but of course we have one more. A for Arizona is changing the way our state leaders think about education by identifying the secrets of Arizona’s high performing, low-income schools and looking for ways to replicate them. In the same way we look to industry leaders to close the skills gap, we are looking to school leaders to close the achievement gap. And as we can see from news out this week, it’s working!

Business can’t slow down waiting for today’s workforce to catch up. It’s time for employers to take a more active role in making sure we have a robust talent pipeline going into the future. Arizona’s business community has already stepped up in a big way to meet that challenge through meaningful collaboration with the Governor’s Office and state policymakers. And it’s only the beginning.

Be sure to check out more about the U.S. Chamber TPM initiative featured in Forbes as well as this video link spotlighting Arizona’s own Senator Yee and Lisa Graham Keegan.

Glenn Hamer is the president and CEO of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry