50-Plus Reasons to Fill the Skill Gap

As recent years have demonstrated, the United States remains a global leader in many different economic sectors. Our leadership can, in large part, be attributed to the natural, unconventional and innovative assets we often read about such as natural gas, manufacturing production, patents and high-tech processes. These and other assets have stabilized our country and will foster the growth of the U.S. economy during the next three to five years.

However, too often the assets that produce a tangible and significant return on investment eclipse those that produce an intangible and greater return on investment — human capital, our true economic driver.

I attribute our outstanding, global leadership to our hard-working and committed cadre of workers. The quality and efficiency of the U.S. labor force will fuel U.S. economic growth. However, we must recognize the value of our entire workforce. In November, the U.S. Labor Department reported there were 3.6 million job openings in the United States. Within many large, medium and small businesses there are labor gaps. Is the U.S. facing a skills crisis, is there an employer bias or is it both?

Too often companies seek recent college or university graduates with the hope of training them for long-term careers. Millions, if not billions, of dollars are invested to identify, train, coach and promote these workers. However, research has shown that too often, despite extremely well-designed training efforts, these young workers leave after a short tenure with their companies, thus creating a labor gap.

Maybe because I am a senior who has been in the labor force for more than 50 years with no intention to retire, I feel there are many professionals near and beyond senior status who could be valuable resources for firms of all sizes.

Senior workers, if given an opportunity, often stay with a company longer than their younger counterparts. Further, experienced professionals also bring a lifetime of skills to their job and are often cited as having a stronger work ethic, superior interpersonal skills and judgment. Ultimately, experienced workers can be much more efficient and as a result significantly cheaper than their less-experienced peers.

Recently, AARP identified this gap and designed a program titled Work Reimagined to address it. The program aims to:

• Recognize and promote the value of experienced workers.
• Provide tools and networking opportunities to help workers promote their skill sets.
• Connect employers seeking talent to experienced workers seeking job opportunities.

In a strategic partnership with LinkedIn, AARP is accomplishing these goals by reaching out to companies across the nation to connect out-of-work, highly qualified professionals with job opportunities.

When I first heard about this program I thought about relatives, friends and allies who, through no fault of their own, were out of work. Many of them endeavored to find work using the old methods to no avail. With the Work Reimagined platform, utilizing social networks to spread information and connecting employers and job seekers has never been so efficient.

In the case of small businesses, the addition of one key professional could make the difference between growth and no growth. It could be an IT expert, human resource specialist or veteran salesperson who if given the opportunity could fill a unique gap. I cannot believe the U.S. is actually suffering from a skill crisis. We have the talent we need. We must set aside our bias, re-evaluate our job candidates and utilize our direct bridges to acquire or develop that talent.

I applaud AARP and LinkedIn for creating this platform, recognizing human capital and promoting the importance of undervalued, significant professional assets. Once we reaffirm belief in our human capital, our economy will flourish and further demonstrate our global economic leadership.

James H. Lowry is a senior adviser for Boston Consulting Group and inaugural member of the Minority Business Hall of Fame. He can be reached at editor@diversity-executive.com.