Creative Approach Needed to Address Job Skills Gap

The president recently announced a plan to make two years of community college and technical school free to responsible students, which underscores a serious problem that not only affects unemployed youth, but small business owners, as well.

Despite the fact that more than five years have passed since the end of the Great Recession, six million young Americans are unemployed — a staggering number that negatively affects economic demand and hurts small businesses. At the same time, small employers are struggling to fill job vacancies. In fact, some 40 percent of American employers cite lack of skills as the No. 1 reason for entry-level vacancies. What’s more, Small Business Majority polled a random sample of small business owners across the country and found a majority of small businesses are hiring but struggle to find qualified workers.

In order to help get young Americans the education and training they need to succeed in the workforce, President Obama just announced two proposals to help prospective students — The America’s College Promise Proposal and the American Technical Training Fund. The America’s College Promise Proposal would provide two free years of community college for responsible students and create a new partnership with states to help them waive tuition in high-quality programs, while promoting key reforms to help more students complete at least two years of college.

Meanwhile, the American Technical Training Fund seeks to expand innovative and high-quality training programs across the U.S. while encouraging work-based learning opportunities, providing accelerated training and accommodating part-time work. The Technical Training Fund would focus on helping high-potential, low-wage workers gain the skills they need to gain middle-class jobs in growing fields that local employers are trying to fill, such as energy, IT and advanced manufacturing.

We know from our scientific opinion polling that many small business owners are interested in programs like these that help address the job skills gap by expanding apprenticeships and work-based training. In fact, our polling found 55 percent of entrepreneurs say they’re interested in employing apprentices through a structured training program, and more than six in 10 support implementing an on-the-job training program for employees.

Programs like these can help unemployed youth gain the skills they need to find jobs, which not only helps small employers identify the job candidates they need, but boosts our economy. Research shows youth unemployment has severe consequences on our economy. In fact, high unemployment rates for 18 to 34-year-olds cost federal and state governments an estimated $8.9 billion annually. What’s more, young Americans aged 20 to 24 will lose out on $21.4 billion in earnings over the next 10 years, which hurts consumer demand and the economy overall.

To help address this problem, Small Business Majority launched a national sign-on campaign in 2014 asking small employers to pledge to create professional opportunities for young people to help bridge the gap between youth who are out of school and out of work, and small businesses having a hard time filling entry-level positions.

The pledge asks small business owners to commit to taking one or more actions to create opportunities for our youth, such as increasing the number of opportunity youth hires within their companies or implementing or expanding apprenticeship programs.

It’s important that we create professional opportunities for our youth. One way to do that is to give young people the chance to get hands-on training, experience and education. Far too many young Americans are struggling to find jobs, which negatively affects economic demand. By solving this problem, we will foster better workforces, which will bolster small employers and our economy as a whole.

To learn how you can get involved, check out the campaign at www.smallbiz4youth.com.

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