Jobs! Jobs! Jobs! The cry goes up from near and far across the country as the 9 to 10 percent of Americans currently unemployed desperately seek gainful employment. Politicians of every stripe rail about the jobs crisis, point fingers, and promise this or that pie-in-the-sky solution if elected.
According to the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI), the electric power industry alone will have to replace nearly 100,000 skilled workers, more than 25,000 in the nuclear industry alone, by 2015.
While the solar industry is just beginning to get started here in America, there are approximately 93,500 direct and indirect jobs in the American solar industry currently, employing, by comparison, about 9,200 more workers than the U.S. steel production sector, according to 2010 Bureau of Labor Statistics. As demand for lower cost and more environmentally friendly electrical power increases, continued job growth in not only the solar power generation sector but also the wind power generation sector are projected to dramatically increase over the next decade.
Projections for meaningful job growth in the ever changing field of alternative fuels are robust as research continues to discover and develop new approaches and technologies.
The modern military, once the job of last resort for many of the minimally educated, requires a better educated and extremely more technically savvy recruit to efficiently interface with the increasing sophisticate weapons systems of tomorrow.
So what is the root cause of the disconnect between those seeking employment and the thousands of jobs which remain open week after week? Why do some many remain unemployed when employers across the country are repeatedly advertising open positions, not just low wage jobs at fast food joints, but good paying jobs in the health care field, the electrical power industry, accounting, IT, and education, for example?
The painfully obvious secret is that America’s work force is woefully unprepared for the skills intensive jobs that will be created in the 21st century. Gone are the days when a simple high school education was enough to secure a lifetime of meaningful and well compensated employment. The simple fact is that 21st century jobs will require 21st century skill sets. And these jobs are not in some distant future time, they are here today. Employers across all sectors of the economy face the daunting challenge of trying to expand existing businesses or, even worse, trying to create new businesses when there is a marked scarcity of currently qualified applicants and faint hope of seeing that pool of applicants improve in the near future.
The good news: Industry partnerships with various educational institutions as well as private sector internships and mentor programs are on the rise. Educators are finally beginning to realize that teaching reading, writing, and arithmetic, is not producing the types of graduates today’s industry needs, much less the work force of tomorrow.
The not so good news: The scope and pace of widespread implementation and use of these professional and other technical education programs is far too slow to have any real meaningful impact in the time frame required.
As has so often been the case, the professional engineering and architectural communities have the opportunity to lead the way in the transition to a better prepared work force. Despite claims to the contrary, the government can help, but it is not the answer to solving the problem. Empowering the work force with new skill sets and a fresh sense of resolve to improve their circumstances can and should be done by those most directly affected. While progress in this area has and is being made, the country is way behind the curve in creating the type of work force needed for success in the 21st century. Today’s professionals must take up the challenge to create tomorrow’s skilled replacements. Our very future depends upon it.