Skills Gap and Lack of Opportunities Cited As Factors in National Employment Picture
WASHINGTON – Upgrading the skills of the U.S. workforce and creating employment opportunities for all workers is key to strengthening the nation's job market, experts told the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) at a public meeting held at agency headquarters in Washington, D.C. today.
"A thorough understanding of today's workforce, the employment opportunities available, the challenges in the job market – all are critical to our work in the EEOC," said Acting Chair Victoria A. Lipnic. "Job opportunities must not be denied to anyone for discriminatory reasons. And at the end of our work, discrimination must be remedied with employment opportunity."
The nature of work is changing, resulting in a gap between job seekers and vacancies, according to Aparna Mathur, a Resident Scholar with the American Enterprise Institute. There are a lot of skill-intensive jobs being created in America, but they require "upgrading the skills of the existing workforce so they can more easily match into these jobs," Mathur said. She also discussed the impact of technology, and removing barriers for people with disabilities as areas where policymakers could have a positive impact on strengthening the nation's workforce.
Nicole Smith, Chief Economist at Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce, focused on President Donald Trump's $1 trillion infrastructure proposal and its implications for the nation's employment market. Smith asserts that the infrastructure program would "revive the blue collar economy," but acknowledges that modern infrastructure jobs will require new training and skills for individuals at every education level.
"The long-term problem is not necessarily a lack of jobs for experienced infrastructure workers, but a mismatch between the skills of dislocated infrastructure workers and the jobs available, especially at the sub-baccalaureate level," Smith said.
All of the speakers discussed the benefits of apprenticeship programs as a driver of skills training. They also support the economic vitality of the communities they serve. Mason Bishop of WorkED Consulting, LLC, discussed a linkage between the lack of diversity in education and training programs, and poverty. Bishop emphasized the importance of community partnerships with local colleges, employers, and state workforce and education agencies, in training workers and connecting them to middle- and high-skilled jobs. "Too often, employment and training organizations do not reach and effectively recruit minority students into programs, and thus institutional barriers to economic opportunity and upward mobility persist," Bishop said.
"All they need is an opportunity," Montez King told the Commission, when discussing his personal experience first as an apprentice in an underserved community in Baltimore, and then in a work-study program which trained him for gainful machining work. He called this apprenticeship "a game changer" in his life. He now serves as the Interim Executive Director of the National Institute for Metalworking Skills (NIMS), which sets skills standards for the industry.
Michael D'Ambrose, Senior Vice President and Chief Human Resources officer for Archer Daniels Midland Company, said that though there is job growth in the food and agricultural industry, there simply aren't enough skilled workers to fill these positions. D'Ambrose said the nation should recognize that there are good jobs available to those who pursue vocational or technical education to learn a trade.
"We do our students a disservice when we suggest to them, directly or indirectly, that admission to a four-year college is the only kind of success that matters," he said. D'Ambrose welcomed cooperation with policymakers and praised the EEOC's focus on creating opportunity for our nation's workers.
Kenneth Rigmaiden, president of the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades, also praised apprenticeship programs and joint labor-management structures that ensure that the training of workers is directly connected to market needs. Because these programs are funded by local employers, individuals are only trained if the employers have job vacancies.
"This market-oriented approach ensures that our programs are designed to fill the jobs of today, tomorrow and five years from now," said Ridmaiden.
There was wide agreement that workers must acquire the skills needed for current and future jobs across many employment sectors, and policymakers should do more to support this need by expanding education and training programs, and by removing barriers to hiring for various segments of the population, including women and minorities.
The Commission will hold open the April 5, 2017 Commission meeting record for 15 days, and invites audience members, as well as other members of the public, to submit written comments on any issues or matters discussed at the meeting. Public comments may be mailed to Commission Meeting, EEOC Executive Officer, 131 M Street, N.E., Washington, D.C. 20507, or emailed to: Commissionmeetingcomments@eeoc.gov.
The comments provided will be made available to members of the Commission and to Commission staff working on the matters discussed at the meeting. In addition, comments may be published on EEOC's public website, or disclosed in response to Freedom of Information Act requests and in the Commission's library. Providing comments in response to this solicitation equals consent to their use and consideration by the Commission and to their public availability. Accordingly, do not include any information in submitted comments that you would not want made public, like home address, telephone number, etc. Also note that when comments are submitted by email, the sender's email address automatically appears on the message.
EEOC has posted biographies and statements of all panelists, and will post a video of the meeting within a few days, and a full transcript within a few weeks. These can all be found at https://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/meetings/index.cfm.
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