We Won’t Solve America’s Skills Gap Until We Acknowledge Our Own Awareness Gap

It’ll advance younger generations—and the U.S. economy.

The chasm between the skills that U.S. employers are looking for and the abilities that potential hires actually possess is approaching epidemic proportions. Businesses in virtually every industry are struggling to find workers who have the academic, technical and professional skills to consistently excel and succeed in the workplace. And younger workers, in particular, sense the disconnect between their workforce preparedness and what is actually needed on the job. But why is this happening—and here, in America, of all places?

Of the myriad of factors that play into our skills gap, one that looms large is the awareness gap. This is the breach between what people think they know about a particular industry and what is actually true. Manufacturing, for instance, is a prime example; for many people, it conjures up images of a grubby factory and low-paying work. But in reality, manufacturing is a high-tech, high-precision field where, on average, workers are earning more than $80,000 annually—and, to boot, where there are plenty of open jobs. Yet manufacturing is dogged by a persistent awareness gap that is causing younger generations—Millennials and Generation-Z—to bypass the industry.

Young people simply don’t know what they don’t know about rewarding careers in high-demand fields—such as manufacturing, aviation, healthcare, construction, agriculture, transportation and many more—that only require an industry certification and may even lead to a college degree, along with the means to pay for it. And why don’t they know?

Because their parents and teachers don’t know. It’s a profound awareness gap—and it begins and ends with older generations.

A paradigm shift

Bridging the awareness gap—to close the skills gap—will require a major paradigm shift. Parents, educators and employers all have a crucial role in not just making young people aware of skills-gap professions, but also motivating them to pursue those careers if they are the right fit. Here’s a good place for each group to start:

  • Parents: Close your own awareness gap. For example, did you know that Bloomberg recently reported that professionals in critical trades like plumbing and automotive repair are earning more than the average salary for office jobs? Don’t create pressure to choose what you would choose. Help your child find the perfect intersection of career and lifestyle—for them.
  • Educators: Let go of the one-size-fits-all “college is a must” mindset. It has run its course. With the plethora of rewarding careers that require only an industry certification, it’s time to extol the value of all postsecondary pathways that lead to viable, living-wage careers. The next generation—and the U.S. economy—will thank you.
  • Employers: Play the long game by going beyond surface-level partnerships with education and stocking your talent pipeline very, very early.

America’s skills gap starts with our awareness gap. So let’s start now to bridge it. 

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I write about unleashing passion, purpose, and performance in younger generations and how that intersects education, career, workforce development, and the new multigen

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