More employers should sign this pledge and help close the skills gap

By Gary ShapiroOpinionFOXBusiness

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Wage growth for U.S. workers hit its fastest pace in a decade this year, thanks in part to the Trump administration’s recent efforts to drive economic resurgence. And a key element of the White House's future strategy to grow our economy and ensure American jobs is the administration’s Pledge to America’s Workers, spearheaded by advisor to the president Ivanka Trump.

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The Pledge, which was announced in July 2018, calls upon employers to expand programs that educate, train and reskill American workers while creating more jobs through retraining. Already, employers across the country have pledged some seven million total opportunities – from creating new jobs to reskilling programs to leadership courses. Companies that pledge to offer opportunities to workers commit to doing so within the next five years.

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These impressive opportunities will address America’s ever-widening skills gap. A Consumer Technology Association (CTA)™survey about workforce needs reports 92 percent of executives expect to need more employees with technical skills over the next five years – but three-quarters of executives say it’s difficult to find candidates with the right skills and abilities today.

We have amazing technologies in the works which will improve our health, extend our lives, cut car accidents and deaths and transform agriculture, education and transportation. Artificial intelligence (AI), 5G, self-driving cars, drones and robotics will improve our lives. But they will also change our jobs. And the industry must step up to ensure American workers get the skills they need to succeed with this transformational technology.

We need worker retraining programs. Many new jobs require specific skill sets the average American worker doesn’t yet have. U.S. companies face a major skills shortage for technical roles in particular – AI engineers, for example, will be in great demand in the coming years as AI technology expands.

Despite the growing emphasis on STEM, many American students still aren’t pursuing degrees in these fields. Junior Achievement found the percentage of teenage boys who said they wanted a STEM career dropped from 36 percent in 2017 to 24 percent in 2018. Teenage girls’ low level of interest remained unchanged at 11 percent.

Of those with college training in a STEM field, half are working in a non-STEM job. We need to encourage students who train in STEM to pursue careers in these fields.

We also need to encourage STEM education among African Americans, Latinos and women, who are underrepresented in many STEM jobs. And we need to encourage more Americans to pursue advanced degrees in these areas. American students earn fewer than half of this country’s doctoral degrees in many STEM fields.

But students alone can’t bear the burden. Technology is transforming the workforce, and employers have to address the nation’s skills gap by creating jobs for graduates and retraining workers. To help close this gap, CTA is encouraging its corporate members to sign the Pledge to America’s Workers. To date, CTA and its member companies have pledged more than two million opportunities. In fact, 29 percent of the total pledges are from consumer technology companies.

“People are at the center of Bosch’s competitive advantage,” said Charlie Ackerman, senior vice president of human resources for Bosch in North America, a CTA member. “In view of the rapidly changing, knowledge-based economy and the increasing demand for STEM talent, we remain committed to providing new education and training opportunities that will help close the STEM skills gap and create an adaptive workforce.”

These opportunities include apprenticeships, continuing education or on-the-job-training that enhance skills or provide new skills to workers – such as software or equipment training. Opportunities can also be programs that develop the “soft skills” of employees, including communication and problem solving, or partnerships with community colleges or vocational schools.

Thinking outside the box is important when developing these opportunities. Programs that target veterans, such as the veteran-hiring U.S. Tech Vets platform, can harness a skilled, hard-working base of potential employees, many of whom already have a technical background. Apprenticeships are another option, as are programs such as Grow with Google’s IT Support Certificate, which provides resources to workers looking to reskill within their current job.

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In 2018, 46 percent of U.S. employers struggled to fill vacancies, yet employees are eager to upskill and want to stay employable. In order to remain a tech-savvy, innovative country of entrepreneurs, doers and dreamers, we have to grow a capable and adaptable workforce, starting with a focus on educating America’s students and upskilling America’s workers.

Gary Shapiro is president and CEO of the Consumer Technology Association (CTA)™, the U.S. trade association representing more than 2,200 consumer technology companies, and a New York Times best-selling author. He is the author of the book, Ninja Future: Secrets toSuccess in the New World of Innovation. His views are his own.