WASHINGTON — On December 15, leaders from across the private sector, government, and the higher education community debated options for closing the growing skills gap to foster better economic development and competitiveness in the US. Called “Building the Employment Agenda: New Solutions to Close the Skills Gap,” the roundtable hosted by the Atlantic Council and PwC emphasized the role of cross-sector collaboration, with the business community leading the way toward solutions.

"The bottom line is that the private sector needs to step up in a much bigger way… Governments don’t have the financial resources to have the impact they once had," said Dennis Nally, global chairman at PwC International Limited. "We need to address fundamental cultural changes in the workforce today and in the future, and how those fit into the focus for business and the educational system."  

While new job creation tops the political agenda across developed and developing economies, companies still continue to report difficulty finding the qualified workers they need to fill existing job vacancies, of which the US Bureau of Labor Statistics says there are 3 million in the US. In the 2011 Annual Global CEO Survey by PwC, CEOs identified “a limited supply of candidates” as the number one challenge to growth. The full report is available at www.pwc.com. This mismatch in talent (or “skills gap”) impedes industry competitiveness, economic growth, and could even erode national security. 

“If we make a public commitment on the national level—that the business, labor, and education communities are committed to working together to create and fill 20 million jobs by the end of the decade—then we can meet this challenge,” said roundtable participant Dr. Thomas Kochan, co-director of the Sloan Institute for Work and Employment Research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 

To address this issue and develop concrete solutions, the roundtable members debated and focused on: the costs businesses bear because of talent mismatches and shortages; ideas for the most effective policy approaches in a challenging political climate; and how corporations can prepare for finding, retaining, and organizing talent in the rebalancing world. Potential solutions emphasized the need for cross-sector collaboration, smarter spending on education, and a national strategy for long-term training. 

An initial report on the roundtable’s findings will be available in January. 

Other noted participants included Chemonics CEO Richard Dreiman; Northern Ireland Minister of Employment and Learning Stephen Farry; Atlantic Council President and CEO Frederick Kempe; OECD Director for Employment, Labor, and Social Affairs John Martin; Permac Industries CEO and Member of President Obama’s Council on Jobs & Competitiveness Darlene Miller; and ACT CEO Dr. John Whitmore. 

For more information, contact Taleen Ananian at tananian@acus.org or 202.778.4993.