We’ve all heard of the skills gap by now: Companies have lots of open positions but can’t find enough workers with the skills they need. The result: unemployment and underemployment remain high.
This problem is particularly harrowing for young professionals. In March 2014, the unemployment rate for workers under 25 was 14.5 percent, according to the Economic Policy Institute. Underemployment is at 16.8 percent for young college grads and 41.5 percent for those with a high school diploma.
Yet, more than half of companies report having unfilled positions due to a lack of qualified candidates, according to a March 2014 CareerBuilder study. Tech and computer jobs are especially hard to fill, with 71 percent of companies with unfilled positions seeking qualified workers in technology or math.
A quick look at major companies shows this firsthand: Amazon has 16,000 IT jobs posted and Accenture has 14,000. These unfilled positions come at a high cost. The CareerBuilder study showed companies lose more than $14,000 for every position that remains vacant for three months or more.
Fundamentally, the skills gap is an education problem. It reflects a failure to prepare our workforce with the skills they need to thrive in a digital economy. Fortunately, a number of government, nonprofit and educational institutions, as well as businesses, are working to shrink this gap. Here are a few of the most significant efforts to solve this problem:
1. Coding schools.
These programs -- also known as hacker schools or coding boot camps -- teach people advanced computer skills in a nontraditional setting. Some, such as Codecademy, are free, but others, like General Assembly, charge a fee. These intensive programs are giving more young people an opportunity to build a career in technology.
2. Massive open online courses (MOOCs).
MOOCs are offered by universities for free to a huge number of students. The courses are a departure from other online education courses and videos in that they’re available to a nearly an unlimited number of students and typically involve assessment. However, because there are no grades or costs associated with the courses, completion hinges on a student’s motivation, which can be hard to maintain in the absence of other incentives.
3. Federal and nonprofit efforts.
Hundreds of local, county and state governments around the country are working to train workers to shrink the gap in many areas. The federal government has also allocated funds for job training and apprenticeship programs.
Nonprofit organizations like Skills for Chicagoland’s Future are also training and matching unemployed workers to jobs. While these efforts are paying off in many fields, training in current computer technology is especially difficult to keep up with, and these programs may not have the funds to train workers on the latest technologies.
4. Other companies.
Many for-profit companies are also making an effort to train workers for jobs. MTU America and BMW discovered a lack of skilled workers after establishing factories in South Carolina last year. As a result, the German manufacturers responded by setting up curriculum in local high schools and apprenticeship and training programs for young workers.
At Andela, the startup I co-founded earlier this year, we are combining a number of these approaches.
Andela was founded on the recognition that the skills gap is a global problem and requires a global solution. One of the largest pools of untapped talent is Africa, home to the fastest growing, youngest population in the world. That’s why we are creating a pipeline for young people in Africa. Through online aptitude assessments, in-person interviews and a two-week boot camp, we identify the top 1 percent of applicants, enroll them in one of the most demanding developer training programs in the world, and match them with top employers looking for talent.