America’s top CEOs weigh in on closing the skills gap

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WorkingNation is committed to finding solutions to the growing skills gap, where companies are finding fewer qualified job applicants for higher skilled jobs. Business Consultant and WorkingNation Contributing Writer Ramona Schindelheim got the perspective from four of the nation’s top CEOs on this pressing issue.

This October, Schindelheim asks BorgWarner’s James Verrier; Mike Petters of Huntington Ingalls Industries; Dow Chemical’s Andrew Liveris and Sarepta’s Doug Ingram about how their companies are responding to workforce development and their ideas for the future of skills training.

Find out what American CEOs, James Verrier, Andrew Liveris, Mike Petters and Doug Ingram think about closing the skills gap this month.

We talked with Ramona about her upcoming feature articles, which will run on subsequent Mondays this month. To catch up on Ramona’s previous articles for WorkingNation: click here. Connect with Ramona through Twitter and her website.

WorkingNation: For your series, you pulled in some heavy hitters including three CEOs from Fortune 500 companies. What can our readers expect to learn from them this month?

Ramona Schindelheim. Photo – RamonaSchindelheim.com

Ramona Schindelheim: It’s very clear that a “one-size-fits-all approach” falls short of closing the jobs skills gap. There is a diversity of need – engineers, scientists, craftsmen. Each CEO is tailoring their company’s programs to their very specific needs. One great success story is Huntington Ingalls. The CEO told me, “You can’t go to a four-year college and get a degree in shipbuilding.” Instead, the company has expanded its highly-competitive apprentice schools (harder to get into than Harvard, according to the CEO) that churns out men and women skilled in the crafts needed to develop and build America’s military ships. The types of jobs have changed over the original school’s 137-year history. The school has changed with it.

WN: What was their reaction to your theme of closing the skills gap and developing new sources of talent in the workforce?

RS: I am impressed by the passion that these CEOs show for finding ways to solve the jobs skills gap. Of course, the training programs are important to ensure there are highly-skilled workers for the jobs available now and in the future. But, to a CEO, these companies are committed to making certain that their current employees and the American workforce, as a whole, are learning skills that will improve their lives. They all agreed a skilled workforce makes for a better economy and a better way of life.

WN: Is closing the skills gap a major priority for their companies? Why?

RS: No question. Solving the talent shortage is the key to a company’s success and the country’s economic future. America needs a highly-skilled workforce in order to be globally competitive. The nature of nearly all business in the world continues to evolve. We are not producing enough engineers, scientists, computer programmers, or digitally-trained young workers. If a company doesn’t have the workforce, it can fall behind in its own evolution.

WN: Why is their top-down approach to solving this crisis important to the layperson?

RS: The CEOs all agree they must be involved in their own futures. As one put it, you can’t complain about what the jobs pipeline is turning out if you are not helping shape the curriculum. Companies know the skills their future workers need; they need to share that knowledge with local colleges and local and state governments to ensure they are being part of the solution. A better-trained worker raises the quality of a business and the quality of life for the employee.

WN: In your upcoming article with Dow Chemical CEO Andrew Liveris, he mentions that re-skilling workers doesn’t just affect one sector, region or industry but across the entire domestic workforce. Why are they so keen on re-skilling American workers?

RS: Again, it comes to creating a stronger American economy. If you can become an engineer or scientist or learn a craft relying on a STEM skill, you are more likely to command a higher salary than someone without those qualities. But, according to Liveris, you can play a major role in shaping the future of humanity. Liveris believes that these disciplines will help humanity address a whole list of global challenges, including climate change, food and water shortages, sustainable housing, and a robust infrastructure.

WN: Why are these CEOs suggesting more cooperation between companies and educators?

RS: The message from the CEOs was very forceful: work with educators on all levels – K-12 and college – to create curricula that put the younger generation on a path toward a good, meaningful career. Companies know what they need to be successful; share that knowledge with educators to help make students successful, too.

WN: What solutions to the skills gap are working for them? Public-private? Self-financed? (Just give our readers a tease to check in week-to-week).

RS: I spoke to CEOs from a variety of companies: a global chemical giant, a vital provider of auto parts, a military shipbuilder and a biotech firm. Each one is having success with their approach to solving their company’s problem. Getting a community or a state to share the mission to train the citizens of its community, to make their financial situation more stable, is a strong motivator behind these initiatives.

WN: Why are globalization and automation accelerating these companies’ need to produce solutions?

RS: Automation and globalization are eliminating jobs around the world with the introduction of new technologies, but they are also creating new job opportunities. We’ve not been able to keep up with those changes and, thus, American businesses find they have open positions and no one with the skills. We need to continue to find a way to get the current workforce retrained quickly to take those jobs. We need to work with our businesses of all sizes to determine what they need and then provide that training.

WN: What did you glean from your conversations with these captains of industry?

RS: The CEOs are committed to building a high-skill workforce. They want to do it from their businesses but are equally inspired to do it for their current and former workers.

Check back on Monday, October 9 for Ramona’s first article with BorgWarner CEO James Verrier.

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