Community Development and Policy Studies (CDPS) Update

In the course of Community Development and Policy Studies (CDPS) field work on varying projects throughout the Seventh District, CDPS contacts – in varying contexts – have voiced concerns that there is a lack of up-to-date skills among the unemployed. To gain a broader perspective on these concerns as well as other conditions impacting low- and moderate-income (LMI) populations and communities, CDPS conducts regular surveys of people representing organizations that serve these populations and communities in varying ways. Our survey respondents represent organizations in the fields of real estate development; facilities financing; financial counseling; economic development; banking; consumer advocacy; small business development; philanthropy; law; higher education; agriculture; manufacturing; and human services. This blog is a summary of responses from the latest CDPS Survey.

Most contacts underscored that many people in their community lack the skills needed to fill current positions in the workplace. While the manufacturing sector reported the biggest worker/skill shortage, other contacts mentioned the scientific and financial industries in particular as having trouble finding qualified applicants to fill open positions. One possible explanation for this mismatch is that schools stress the importance of college and often ignore vocational skills. Few students look into trade schools to help them learn the highly technical skills required for manufacturing jobs.

However, community colleges and companies are trying to help close the gap by changing their curricula. Contacts noted that community colleges are tailoring their classes to actual job openings, for example: offering welding classes; developing short term training programs to address the immediate need for specific machinists including CNC operators, welders, and industrial maintenance technicians; creating relationships with high schools to bring back vocational training; and coordinating with employers to make sure they are teaching the required skills.

Contacts mentioned the need for the employees to have basic skills and be ‘trainable’ for a company to invest into the workers future. If the employee has the basic skills then many companies are willing to train them. Additionally, a few contacts noted that training was also done through mentoring programs within the company. However, one contact noted that with the high unemployment rate (IA: 4.2%; IL 8.6%; IN: 6.9%; MI: 8.4%; and WI: 6.2% as of December 2013) they have grown accustomed to having over-qualified job seekers apply for their open positions.

CDPS has looked into the skill gap in the past and how community colleges have looked for ways to address it in a recent ProfitWise News and Views article “Community Colleges and Industry: How Partnerships Address the Skills Gap“. The department will continue to look into the skills gap in the future.

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