There are nearly eight million people unemployed in America as of September of this year. And, there are millions more who are involuntary part-time workers who often don’t make enough money to pay for their necessities.
Yet, businesses report difficulty finding the right talent. In a CareerBuilder survey a few years ago, 35 percent of employers said they struggled to fill open roles. What’s more, many positions remain open and unfulfilled for months.
And that’s a real problem. Despite a large workforce in need of a job, there are skill gaps for high-paying, specialized roles.
That’s why some organizations are working to bridge this gap and help people get the education they need to succeed in their careers.
Building towards a 21st-century workforce
Ray Larsen, Vice President for Collective Impact with Heart of Florida United Way, believes the talent gap is one of the biggest problems for workers right now.
The industries most affected by the talent gap are science, technology, engineering, healthcare, and community supports. Although jobs in these fields pay well, they require significant education credentials.
What’s more, the lack of qualified workers essentially affects everyone. Without the right talent, companies cannot grow and flourish. As a result, the economy is negatively affected.
Issues affecting the talent gap
However, the talent gap is due to complex and complicated issues.
The current socio-economic system makes it difficult for some Americans to go back to school. And, schools, government, and organizations need to address these issues before improvements can be made.
Even for talented and academically gifted students, the process of going to college can be overwhelming. And for first-generation students who are the first in their families to go to college, it can be prohibitive.
Without someone to guide them, these students do not know all the requirements and deadlines for school.
From application deadlines to FAFSA completion, there are so many essential parts of the application process. Yet, first-generation students are unaware of what is necessary.
“It becomes a cycle,” Larsen explains. “For those from families who didn’t go to college, the process of applying to school and applying for financial aid can be a huge barrier.”
“And as they get overwhelmed, they start to feel like they don’t belong in college after all,” Larsen adds.
They’re helping first-generation students through the process with reminder programs, workshops, and FAFSA completion guides.
While cost can be a barrier to education, Larsen warns that it’s not just the price of tuition and fees that keep a student from graduating. It’s often smaller things that can derail their progress.
“There are resources out there like Pell grants, loans, and scholarships for school,” Larsen says. “But covering the cost of tuition and books doesn’t get it done.”
“Getting into school is often not the issue,” Larsen adds. “It’s staying in school that’s the problem. One small life event can ruin it.”
Many low-income and first-generation students are one emergency away from financial ruin. A medical bill, a transportation issue, or a childcare problem can cause them to leave school. Even when they’re doing well.
“Just $600 or $700 can be enough to take care of the issue and keep them in school,” says Larsen. “It’s a relatively small amount, but it can bridge the gap and help them get their degree.”
Luckily nationwide, programs are popping up to help this issue.
Larsen says that Heart of Florida United Way partnered with Seminole State College to launch a pilot program called Destination: Graduation, funded by a grant from the Lumina Foundation.
“Life can get in the way of a college degree,” says Larsen. “We designed this program to help students through a financial crisis.”
“We’re the safety net they need to continue their education,” Larsen adds.
The program has already helped hundreds of people and highlights how small amounts can help students.
“One high-performing student had a medical emergency from a heart condition, and he had to leave school,” says Larsen. “Once he was physically ready to go back to school, he had to pay a hold fee of $500 before he could get his financial aid, and he didn’t have it.”
“If we hadn’t stepped in, he wouldn’t have gone back to school,” Larsen says.
Addressing the talent gap
In the next five years, the talent gap will be an area of increasing focus for educators and businesses.
Ultimately, programs aimed to help reduce the information barriers and financial setbacks can help students get the necessary degrees they need to succeed.
“In my mind, it’s a community wager or investment,” says Larsen.
“If you consider one student, the community has invested thousands in him, through public schools and other programs,” Larsen explains. “Despite the odds, he succeeded and shown his grit.”
“I think it’s worth another small investment to help him stay in school because it benefits the whole 21st-century workforce,” Larsen adds.
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