Monday, September 19, 2011

Workforce Economics: Problems and Solutions

Jonas Prising 
Manpower Americas
At a recent Swedish American Chamber of Commerce luncheon in New York, Jonas Prising, President of Manpower Americas — a world leader in employment services, with 4,000 offices in 82 countries — addressed the workforce challenges facing the U.S., in particular, and some other parts of the world in today’s fragile economy.

I found his observations insightful, regardless of what industry you are in; and I believe that all of them need to be communicated to business and government leadership, as only a working partnership between the two will resolve these issues.

According to Mr. Prising, the forces that are driving the world of work right now include:

TALENT AND SKILLS MISMATCH — There is a disconnect between the talent and skills business is demanding and what is available in the labor pool.

DECLINING POPULATION — Many countries are experiencing declining populations, and plans need to be put in place to make sure there are replacements for an aging workforce.

THE EDUCATION FACTOR — Too many young people are taking college courses that do not translate to employment.  To add another point to Mr. Prising’s, inadequate education rears its head in another way:  only 70 percent of students nationally graduate high school on time and 1.2 million drop out annually, according to a 2008 Associated Press story.

UNEMPLOYMENT INCREASES AS POVERTY RISES — The greater the number of people living in poverty, the greater the unemployment.  (No doubt, the reverse is true as well.)  In support of Mr. Prising’s point, I cite the report issued by the U.S. Census Bureau on September 13, 2011 which found that our nation’s official poverty rate in 2010 was 15.1 percent, or 46.2 million living in poverty, up from 14.3 percent, or 43.6 million, in 2009.  Of course, we are all familiar with the unemployment figures.  But Prising notes he does not believe the U.S. will ever return to 5 percent unemployment.

Despite the great economies in the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) countries, they have many of the same problems we do, Prising said.  But he noted that China deals with its talent/skill mismatch problem by simply decreeing which subjects it wants taught to resolve that problem.  He also added that Chinese workers generally get a 25 percent wage increase every time they switch jobs, if they have the right skills.

As many others have, he cited our outsourcing manufacturing and call centers to other countries as a primary reason for the employment issue here and feels it is important to move those jobs back.  Among the solutions, he stressed that the U.S. needs to increase the number of people with skills in science, technology, engineering and math, invest more in R&D, and solve the skills/needs alignment issue.

There is cause for optimism that all of this can be resolved if business and government leadership communicate and collaborate to make change happen.

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