Here’s how to retrain the workforce — and why we need to

It’s time to seriously rethink how the country’s workforce is being trained. Education costs continue to rise, while tech is causing industry transformations that require employee upskilling to ensure companies have the skills they need on hand.

The demand for labor has undergone a seismic shift, and opportunities are drying up in what used to be some of the largest areas of employment. Traditional manufacturing jobs, for example, have been declining for the last 30 years. Yet manufacturing is one of three industries predicted to see the most significant talent shortage in the next decade, according to research by the Korn Ferry Institute.

Why the apparent paradox? Because the industry demands new skills. Manufacturing jobs that require advanced tech skills are going begging, while an overabundance of unneeded mechanical and machine-maintenance workers led GM to cut thousands of jobs.

Korn Ferry’s research also highlighted financial and business services and technology, media and telecommunications as areas that will see a gap between the skills needed to perform necessary tasks and the knowledge that job candidates have.

This comes as no surprise to America’s workers, by the way. A Pew Research Center survey found that 87 percent of adults in the country’s workforce recognize they need training to foster new skills throughout their career to keep up with industry and workforce shifts.

To prevent new skills gaps from arising and existing gaps from getting any wider, government officials and business leaders must step in to assist efforts to upskill America’s workforce.

Pass policies that bolster technical education programs.

We as a country need to focus on training and reskilling if we want an engaged workforce that’s prepared for an ever-changing world. As an entrepreneur, I’ve always prioritized training at my company, and I expect the same focus from policymakers. Fortunately, Senators Mark Warner and Chris Coons have introduced The Lifelong Learning and Training Account Act, which establishes tax-preferred savings accounts for training expenses. Employee (or employer) contributions to an LLTA will be matched, dollar for dollar, with federal funds up to $1,000, and workers can use these funds to pay for any training that awards a recognized post-secondary license, certification or degree.

Another initiative, The Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century (Perkins V) Act was enacted last fall and means $1.2 billion in annual federal investment for career and technical education in the U.S. By introducing proactive policies like these, federal policymakers can contribute to a stronger, more resilient workforce.

Partner with training programs to upskill federal employees.

Last fall, the Office of Management and Budget stated it would need to upskill at least 300,000 federal employees in the next few years. That need for training arises from the President’s Management Agenda, which calls for automation software that could eliminate thousands of hours of federal work and open employees up to more high-value tasks. Unfortunately, funding sources have yet to be established for that employee reskilling.

That’s one good reason government officials should partner with nongovernmental organizations to bolster retraining efforts. For instance, LaunchCode, which offers free training to help people enter the tech field, has seen 80 percent of its coders start their careers without a computer science degree. Recently the organization partnered with the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency to assist in upskilling and retraining the agency’s existing employees while training new employees through apprenticeship programs. Agency leaders across government should seek out similar programs to upskill their current employees and strengthen their talent pipeline.

Support — and sync with — the efforts of private companies.

Private companies can also play an important part in filling existing skills gaps. IBM’s apprenticeship programs are designed to help workers change course in the middle of their careers, while AT&T is undertaking a $1 billion retraining campaign to keep the company competitive into the future. The federal government can encourage more employer-led programs like these through grants and tax incentives.

Federal policymakers can also work to ensure that training programs are in sync with employer needs. The government of Singapore does this by consulting with employers across industries about skills they are likely to need in the near future. It then creates “industry transformation maps” listing training courses related to these high-demand skills and makes these maps available to individuals looking to further their education to keep up with industry requirements. The U.S. needs a program that mirrors Singapore’s effort. As I said earlier, American workers recognize they need to continue learning — they just need the resources to do so.

There’s no doubt technology eliminates many jobs, but it also creates new ones. The challenge is getting workers the skills and education they need to move into these evolving roles. With the right involvement from federal policymakers and business leaders, upskilling initiatives can improve outcomes for both employers and their employees.

Rhett Power is head coach at Power Coaching and Consulting and the author of The Entrepreneur’s Book of Actions, a new book about daily exercises for becoming wealthier, smarter and more successful.

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