We need everybody off the bench

Upcoming U.S. Chamber of Commerce event to focus on strategies for closing the skills gap.

Technology is changing how we do our jobs and its having an impact on businesses big and small. There are more than seven million open jobs around the country. You find them in every industry, from health care to advanced manufacturing and retail to cybersecurity. These very different sectors have a key component in common — employers are having a hard time finding skilled workers to fill those jobs.

Figuring out how to grow and recruit talent is important, not just for businesses, but also for future and current workers. “It’s one of our biggest challenges,” says Cheryl Oldham, Senior Vice President of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Center for Education and Workforce, “and I think the employer community has an important role to play.”

This Thursday, the Chamber will bring together business leaders, nonprofits, educators, and policymakers for its ninth annual Talent Forward conference in Washington, D.C. The day-long event will focus on ways to get these different groups more in sync with one another to transform how we train students and workers.

Cheryl Oldham (Source: U.S. Chamber of Commerce)

“We really are trying to take a holistic view of the talent marketplace, ensuring that individuals have the skills and competencies they need to fill the jobs that are available,” according to Oldham. “It’s so much bigger than just a skills gap. It’s a people issue.”

The number of open jobs is troublesome. Economic success depends on trained workers. She says it is time to get “everybody off the bench. We need anybody who can and wants to work to work. We need to be thinking about all populations and making sure we are doing everything we can to get them into the workforce.”

The kick-off session at Talent Forward will look at how to increase the skills and job opportunities for the formerly incarcerated. The featured speaker is singer, composer, and activist John Legend, founder of FREEAMERICA (@LetsfreeAmerica), a culture change campaign focused on ending mass incarceration.

He’ll explain the campaign’s Unlocked Futures accelerator program which provides entrepreneurs touched by the criminal justice system with a grant and tools to grow their businesses. “Unlocked Futures recognizes that entrepreneurship is a pathway for people who have been affected by the criminal justice system to earn a family-sustaining income and build a career,” according to the FREEAMERICA website.

“There’s that issue of how do we make sure that we’re thinking about everybody who wants to be in the job market and, and what are both policy and programmatic conversations that need to take place to get them connected to the workforce,” explains Oldham.

She also believes more needs to be done to get older workers upskilled to fill some of these open jobs that are being created by changing technology. Here, employer leadership is key. “There are certainly examples of employers that are leading in this area. AT&T always comes to mind. So we’re asking at the conference, ‘how do we make sure that we address this?’ We know jobs are changing, and are changing fast, so we have to provide opportunities for our employees to upskill, and to be reskilled, and support them doing that.”

A session in the afternoon — Maximizing In-House Talent: Upskilling That Works — will focus on sharing best practices in that area.

Helping businesses address their workforce needs in an effective way is one of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s goals. More than five years ago, the Chamber created the Talent Pipeline Management (TPM) initiative. “It started with a white paper and an idea, and then it became a pilot project, and then it became a curriculum and an academy to teach the strategies and approach,” explains Oldham.

It’s now in 29 states with thousands of employers plugged into it. “TPM is all about providing the strategies and tools to the employer community. That means, in part, being able to communicate clearly and with specificity your competency and credential requirements. What is it you’re looking at? What are the skills that you’re looking for?”

Carolyn Cawley (Source: U.S. Chamber of Commerce)

Carolyn Cawley, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, will be looking at the next steps for TPM and how it will be changing with the changes in the workforce needs.

There are many other issues on the agenda, including a look at What to Do When Robots Do Everything: 21 (More) Jobs of the Future, something every employer and employee will want to know about.

WorkingNation is the exclusive media partner of Talent Forward. We’ll be sharing more from the conference in the coming days and week. Stay tuned.