Fixing the U.S. Workforce Gap Involves Second Chances, Preparation, and Partnerships

There are more open positions in the United States than ever before and not enough workers to fill them. Here is what businesses and governments need to do now to address this problem.


Air Date: June 2, 2021

Moderator: Neil Bradley, Executive VP and Chief Policy Officer, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Carolyn Cawley, President, U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, Cheryl A. Oldham, Vice President for Education Policy, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Suzanne P. Clark, President and CEO, U.S. Chamber of Commerce

Featured Guests: Linda Smith, Director, Early Childhood Initiative, Bipartisan Policy Center, Wendi Safstrom, Executive Director, SHRM Foundation, Bahar Ferguson, President, Wasatch I.T. , Ashli Watts, President and CEO, Kentucky Chamber, Jacqueline Coleman, Lieutenant Governor, State of Kentucky, Darren Hawkins, CEO, Yellow, Susan Bitter Smith, Executive Director, Southwest Cable Communications Association, Michael Bellaman, President and CEO, Associated Builders and Contractors, Gina Raimondo, Secretary of Commerce, The Biden Administration

Across all industries in the United States, many employers are finding it difficult to fill open positions in the current job market. The number of employees that once had to work part-time because there wasn’t enough full-time work has fallen drastically. While this situation existed before the COVID-19 pandemic, many factors have caused the issue to worsen.

Below, industry experts, leaders, and business owners spoke at the recent U.S. Chamber of Commerce event Workforce: A Call to Action about the possible solutions to fix this issue.

Second Chance Workers Could Help Close the Job Gap

Each year, more than 6.000 inmates are released from prison and looking for work. However, many of these former inmates are left with the difficult task of erasing the stigma that comes with a previous conviction.

Wendi Safstrom, executive director of the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM) believes that those with prior convictions hold a key part in displacing the human job gap, and are deserving of a second chance.

“Often the crimes that appear on their records… are something that was committed years, if not decades ago, and people should not be penalized for mistakes made of that nature,” said Safstrom.

There are “business benefits and the social benefits that are derived from hiring individuals with criminal records,” explained Safstrom. “Second chance hiring improves efforts to create and develop an [equitable, inclusive and diverse] workforce.”

Preparing Workers Is Crucial to Attracting and Retaining Talent

Schools and education programs are working to place students in the employment pool as prepared as possible to succeed. The Honorable Jacqueline Coleman, lieutenant governor of Kentucky believes that this preparation for the workforce starts before schooling even begins.

“The future of Kentucky's economy and America's economy is in our classrooms today,” Coleman stressed.

“Workforce development doesn't begin after high school… It begins with childcare and early childhood education,” she continued. “[It] also helps us to ensure that every child has the access that they need to make a stronger workforce in the future.”

“The first and best thing that we can do to build a stronger economy and a stronger workforce is to make sure that our schools are adequately and equitably funded and that every American… has access to high-quality job training,” explained Coleman.

The Global Talent Pool Can Help Grow the Domestic Workforce

Industry experts stress that legal immigration is critical to diversifying employee talent and filling in workplace gaps. For Michael Bellaman, president and CEO of Associated Builders and Contractors, there are a number of actions congress can take to allow legal immigrants to fill the over 2 million positions the construction industry calls for in the next few years.

“We need a merit-based, market-based, rule of law worker visa system,” said Bellaman. “[Additionally we need] employers to take those trained individuals that have spent three years in their companies [and give them the] opportunity to sponsor them for a pathway to citizenship.”

Susan Bitter Smith, executive director of the Southwest Cable Communications Association, agrees that the demand for tech industry job spaces is increasing and immigration reform needs to allow for diverse talent to legally enter.

“A huge step [would be]... expanding the annual code of H1B visas for high-tech workers,” she said. “[Also]... allowing international students who graduate from the U S… to stay here to fill those needed positions.”

Public-Private Partnerships Have the Opportunity to Decrease Worker Shortages

Gina M. Raimondo, United States Secretary of Commerce, noted the shortcomings of the current system that leads workers to open positions. She spoke of the importance of emphasizing technical school training during and after high school while deemphasizing four-year college as the only way to get a job.

Raimondo also stressed public and private businesses must work together to identify their needs to decrease worker shortages, and that includes changing their hiring practices.

“I think both sides of the equation have to change the way they do things and be willing to come together in a partnership from day one,” said Raimondo.

“Businesses need to change the way they hire,” she continued. “It is still the case that many companies are searching for people with a four-year college degree to do a job that doesn't necessarily require a four-year college degree.”


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