Getting in on the act

Without swift and effective action the skills shortages
hitting North America will worsen. Charlene Solomon looks at how the
governments are handling this potential crisis

 

As many HR professionals are already aware, the US and
Canadian governments are facing skills gaps and critical shortages within their
countries. Information technology (IT) skills, for one, are in great demand.
According to former US Secretary of Commerce, William Daley, there will be
approximately 1.3 million unfulfilled IT jobs in all sectors of the US economy
over the next ten years, a figure based on a joint survey from the Information
Technology Association of America and Virginia Polytechnic Institute.

 

But there are other skills in short supply too, ranging from
information security personnel, energy and telecommunications to
transportation. And according to the American Society of Training and
Development (ASTD), based in Washington, general literacy and mathematics
skills, teaching, accounting, welding and machinists are lacking; as are
general analytic, problem-solving and critical thinking skills, says Cynthia
Pantazis, director of policy and public leadership for ASTD.

 

So, what are the governments attempting to do to combat what
may become an even more serious problem?

 

They are trying various ways to bridge the skills gap before
it gets even wider. One of these is "job shadowing", which allows
college students to "shadow" members of company IT staffs to see what
they are doing and learn from the experience. There are also large funding
programmes under way offering scholarships to students who make a commitment to
work at federal agencies in exchange for the grant monies. In addition, the US
government is putting $3m into grants to help retrain downsized employees and
$8m into a Website that helps to create resumes and job listings.

 

Another massive effort is the US Workforce Investment Act
(WIA) of August 1998, designed to streamline and improve public sector
employment and training. The idea behind the WIA is that trainers, public
officials, businesses and teachers will develop a new system to improve the
quality of the workforce. The system, led by a consortia of different
stakeholders, aims to upgrade current work skills and adapt training curricula
in specific occupational areas that are experiencing skill shortages. It is
designed to help HR professionals to focus public programmes on market-place
needs, creating the structure to answer some of these short- and longer-term
challenges.

 

The benefit of this new Act, which concentrates on training,
retraining and upgrading skills, is that it combines 70 federal job-training
programmes and encourages the individual states to develop systems that will be
more efficient in delivering training.

 

Central to the WIA is the concept of one-stop centres.
"These centres provide job seekers with a range of services, including
career counselling, skill assessments, training, job search assistance, and
referrals to services and programmes depending on a person’s needs," says
Pantazis. People may also qualify for vouchers, which they can use to help with
the cost of training.

 

The government is serious about this training effort. All
the systems have to be evaluated on the basis of skill acquired, levels of
achievement and job placement for those who have undergone the training.
Furthermore, every level of government is involved.

 

The local government, along with the state governors, shares
the task of setting standards and overseeing the delivery system. The state
governors’ offices also set the eligibility requirements of trainers, and are
responsible for providing the performance standards that allow these trainers
to receive federal money. Further, governments are starting to examine, and
even embrace, e-learning as a way to educate individuals in some of the areas
experiencing the most critical skill shortages.

 

It is clear that a wide variety of methods have to be
employed to address the skills shortages prevalent in North America; it is
equally apparent that there is no time to be wasted in dealing with this issue.

 

Further information

 

– Society of Human Resource Management:      www.shrm.org

 

– American Society of Training and Development:          www.astd.com

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