Business Group Outlines Plan for Better Training and Education

By Staff Report

Dec. 9, 2009

Despite a lengthy recession that has produced the highest unemployment rate since the early 1980s, companies are having a hard time finding qualified people for job openings—a situation that requires fundamental changes in U.S. education and training systems, according to a new report by a group of large corporations.

A commission sponsored by the Business Roundtable, an organization composed of chief executives of 160 companies, released the paper Wednesday, December 9, urging business, educational institutions and government to improve the U.S. talent level.

“Our workforce increasingly finds itself lacking the skills and education demanded by the growing needs and challenges of today’s global marketplace,” states the report of the Business Roundtable’s Springboard Project, “Getting Ahead—Staying Ahead.”

“Even in the midst of a historically deep recession and soaring unemployment, jobs go unfilled because of a mismatch between the skills and experience of job applicants and those in demand by employers.”

The report calls for increasing incentives for post-high school education and training; developing national skill credentials that can be carried from job to job; making education more widely available in part by delivering it online and in customized ways; utilizing community colleges to a greater extent; and inculcating the notion of lifelong learning.

A member of the commission said business and educational institutions must cooperate to identify and meet skill demands in local economies.

“We need to do a better job of connecting the world of education to the world of work,” said David Dougherty, president and CEO of Convergys, at a Washington news conference.

Community colleges provide a key intersection, according to Gail Mellow, president of LaGuardia Community College in New York.

“We get how to be responsive,” Mellow said. “We know how to be nimble. What is needed is a skill credential that makes a difference in the workplace.”

The chair of the Springboard Project vowed that the report would spur improvements in education rather than gather dust on a shelf in Washington.

“This town produces a lot of nice reports,” said William Green, chairman and CEO of consulting firm Accenture. “They think once the report is produced, the job is done. We think that when the report is done, the job begins.”

Companies will stay involved in the process, Green said, because the Business Roundtable will ask each of its members to work on education and training initiatives with at least one state, community college or other two- or four-year college, school district or nonprofit organization.

They also will contribute to Workforce 101, an Internet-based, free course on workplace requirements for high school and college students.

Finding strong job candidates is one of the top two or three priorities for most companies.

“People are desperate to attract talent across the board,” Green said.

That focus, in addition to a commitment from the Obama administration on education and training, enhances the timing of the report, according to Green.

“We are at a defining moment,” Green said. “Do we have the will to seize the day?”

Congress is considering two bills that relate directly to training. A measure that has passed the House would provide about $10 billion of the $12 billion President Barack Obama requested for bolstering community colleges. Another bill would update the Workforce Investment Act, the law that governs many postsecondary training programs.

At a time when every policy matter is viewed in the context of the soaring federal budget deficit, Green said the business group is not seeking billions of new government dollars.

“Our going-in position has to be that we really rethink and repurpose what we spend money on today to get the right outcomes,” Green said.

In the meantime, businesses are searching for job candidates who have the analytical and communication skills to help them compete.

“Talent is a global commodity,” Green said. “The companies and countries with the best people win.”

—Mark Schoeff Jr. 

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