Like many of you, I watched last month as President Obama gave his third State of the Union address. While I'll leave the analysis of good-speech-bad-speech to the legion of pundits on network and cable news, one particular section of the president's remarks struck me.
At one point, Obama, in discussing the nation's unemployment level said:
"I also hear from many business leaders who want to hire in the United States but can't find workers with the right skills. Growing industries in science and technology have twice as many openings as we have workers who can do the job. Think about that - openings at a time when millions of Americans are looking for work. It's inexcusable. And we know how to fix it."
Among his proposed fixes, Obama called on Congress, educators and community leaders to work together to create skills training and development centers that "teach people skills that businesses are looking for right now, from data management to high-tech manufacturing" and will "turn our unemployment system into a re-employment system that puts people to work."
And while he cited corporations that were dedicated to helping train American workers, Obama interestingly never - not once - specifically called on businesses to play a part in worker training, or even suggest that it was in their interests to do so.
This, in my view, was a major failing of the president's address.
Because, without a doubt, it is in your vital interests to play an active and invested role in making sure your current and future workforces have the skills they need to lead your business to the top of its field.
As Jeff Shuman, senior vice president and chief HR and administrative officer for Harris Corporation, an international communications and information technology company, told EBN Managing Editor Andrea Davis, "We can no longer rely on someone graduating with a degree and expecting them to have the skills and capabilities to handle all of our jobs. We as a company spend a great deal of time at schools of all levels - elementary, middle and high schools - getting kids interested in being engineers because, if we don't do that as a country now, we'll be hurting years from now."
Harris spends a lot of time in schools teaching students about careers in engineering, and although Shuman acknowledges "it's hard to put an ROI on that ... it's clearly essential we build that talent capability."
Shuman and other skills gap experts shared their perspectives and prescriptions for improvement in this month's story, "Abandon short-term thinking, educate policymakers to address skills shortages" (page 12).
Several months ago, another HR practitioner that I heard speak at an industry event put the imperative for benefits professionals to get involved in skills training in, shall we say, less eloquent terms: "You're hiring people who aren't as smart as they used to be, and it's making you look pretty dumb."
Whether the words are prickly or poetic isn't the real issue, though. What truly matters is that you heed them. The future of your business, and perhaps our nation as a whole, depends on it.
Send letters, queries and story ideas to Editor-in-Chief Kelley M. Butler at email@example.com.
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