September 26, 2016

The mismatch of jobs and education – 1:2:7

I have the opportunity on a regular basis to talk with the senior leadership of small- and middle-market manufacturing firms. While our conversations cover a wide variety of topics, one that consistently rises to the top is the lack of skilled people to fill a wide variety of job vacancies.

I took a very unscientific poll recently, asking a half-dozen manufacturing business leaders what current openings they have where they cannot find talent to fill them, despite high salaries. The short list includes:

• Electronic assembly technician- $28 per hour

• Mechanical assembly technician - $28 per hour

• Mechanical inspector - $24 per hour

• Lab technician - $15 per hour

• Field service engineer - $60,000 - $80,000 per year

• Licensed electrician - $50,000 - $70,000 per year

• Control systems engineer - $190,000 per year

Every one of these jobs requires a specific skill set and experience. Each of the business leaders said they get a lot of applications for the positions. What they do not get are qualified applicants who can meet the skill and experience requirements to do the jobs.

I then saw a video by Kevin Fleming and Brian Y. Marsh titled "Success in the New Economy." In a little over 10 minutes, this video clearly demonstrates the underpinnings of the problem the manufacturers were having finding qualified people. There is a distinct misalignment between education and the workforce requirements in demand today.

For years we have been told that there is a correlation between level of education and higher income. If you want to make more money, you need a higher level degree. The truth is the current economic workforce requirements don't support this premise. The education-for-all philosophy is underlying the misalignment between job requirements and workforce capabilities.

Consider, in 1960, 13 percent of high school graduates went on to four-year degree programs. Now, 64 percent of the graduates go on to four-year degree programs. In today's economy though, the requirements are different.

In the video, they illustrate the difference with the ratio 1:2:7. For every one job requiring a master's degree, there are two jobs requiring four-year degrees. Most significant, there are seven jobs requiring one-year certificate or two-year associate degrees.

The misalignment is clear. If 64 percent of high school grads go on to four-year degree programs, yet seven of 10 jobs require more focused training, you can see why so many employers have openings going unfilled.

Today's college graduates are finding themselves underemployed. They need jobs, if for no other reason than to pay off the onerous debt they've incurred getting that college degree. They work in jobs that usually do not leverage their skills and training. The new employees are frustrated, and their employers have a difficult time with their lack of motivation.

Economic development agencies have been responding of late with an increased emphasis on community colleges and the programs they offer. These programs are more focused in their curriculum, aligning the education with the economic need. That's a great step in the right direction.

Another positive step would be for those soon to graduate high school to think in terms of their interests and alignment with a career path. Go through a self-exploration process. Understand what you like; where your passions lie. Then look for career paths that align with those passions. You may find the education requirements are more focused, more specific.

The Bottom Line – Success in today's economy screams for alignment between education and economic need. When the workforce becomes more aligned with the job requirements, employees are able to pursue their passions and employers find the skilled talent they need.

Ken Cook is the co-founder of How to Who, an organization focused on helping people effectively build relationships and building business through those relationships. Learn more at


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