Study Examines Skills and Education Necessary for 21st Century Workforce

US unemployment hovers at nine per cent and while 14 million Americans remain unemployed, the US Department of Labor reported there are currently three million available jobs. Against this backdrop, the US Chamber of Commerce and University of Phoenix announced a new report, Life in the 21st Century Workforce: A National Perspective, that paints a picture of the employment landscape and the key dynamics both workers and employers need to consider as they seek to promote excellence in the workplace.

Fifty-three per cent of employers say their companies face a significant challenge in recruiting non-managerial employees with the skills, training, and education their company needs. The results summarised in Life in the 21st Century Workforce: A National Perspective indicate agreement across both employers and employees that education – including continuing education and advanced degrees – is critical to ensuring workers have the skills necessary to advance in their professions. They also agree that interpersonal skills, collaboration, critical thinking, and problem-solving are important to providing the most benefit to employers and the workforce alike.

"There is considerable discussion focused on the skills employees need to succeed in the workplace," said Margaret Spellings, senior advisor to the US Chamber of Commerce and former US Secretary of Education. "However, it’s imperative we understand the issue from the inside-out in order to improve the way we prepare our future workforce."

In today’s workplace, the labour force considers past work experience (50 per cent) to be the most important factor when companies are making hiring decisions, outdistancing people management and communication skills (27 per cent). However, when it comes to being promoted, workers are far more likely to consider people management and communication skills (46 per cent) as more important than past work experience (38 per cent).

"Our nation is facing a critical disconnect between the skills our workforce brings to the job, and what businesses need," said Greg Cappelli, co-CEO of Apollo Group, parent company of University of Phoenix. "Despite the country’s current unemployment levels, there are literally millions of jobs available for people with the right skills and the right education. We must look to the future and focus on providing students with a relevant education – one that prepares them with the expertise they need for successful careers in the workforce of tomorrow."

Among the key findings of study:

Heading Back to School
Eight-in-ten employers (80 per cent) believe that education is critical to ensuring that workers have the competencies necessary to advance, and 72 per cent of the labor pool agree.
US workers believe that going back to school will have a direct impact on their career: the most common reasons for going back to school are to advance their career (89 per cent), increase their salary (89 per cent) or gain training for a specific job (88 per cent).

Moreover, employers believe that increasing the number of workers who complete post-secondary education programs and receive a degree or credential will contribute to the success of their company.

Landing a Job vs. Getting promoted
In today’s workplace, the labor force considers past work experience (50 per cent) to be the most important factor when companies are making hiring decisions, outdistancing people management and communication skills (27 per cent).

However, when it comes to being promoted, workers are more likely to consider people management and communication skills (46 per cent) as more important than past work experience (38 per cent).

And employees (77 per cent) see continuing education as vitally important for success in their careers.

Walking the Talk
Forty-six per cent of workforce respondents say their company pays all (17 per cent) or some portion (29 per cent) of tuition. Meanwhile, 50 per cent of employers say they have a tuition assistance programme.

In addition, 57 per cent of employers interviewed offer flexible schedules to accommodate post-secondary education and training.

Choosing a Programme for Success
Business leaders place a premium on post-secondary education programmes preparing individuals for success in the workplace (56 per cent), providing individuals with core academic knowledge and intellectual skills (51 per cent) and providing individuals with the workforce skills and knowledge for success in a specific career (50 per cent).

Conversely, employees place more weight on program elements that affect their day-to-day life; a flexible schedule is the most important attribute for workers (21 per cent), while 16 per cent say both cost of tuition and practical learning experiences are the most important.

The Uphill Battle
The US Bureau of Labor Statistics is reporting that 14 million Americans remain unemployed. It is against this backdrop that just 19 per cent of Americans believe things in the US are headed in the right direction, while 73 per cent say things are going in the wrong direction.

CPI FINANCIAL

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