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Does the U.S. Need to Follow China’s Lead to Close the Skills Gap?

Does the U.S. Need to Follow China's Lead to Close the Skills GapLast Thursday, we mentioned the fact that China had seen a slight downturn in manufacturing in the month of May. Even so, does the U.S. have something to learn from China in the manufacturing field?

An article in Business Insider earlier this year suggests that we should be looking to China for advice on improving our workforce.

According to the article, David Arkless, the President of Corporate Affairs and Government at the Manpower Group, has argued that there are ways to solve the skills gap. In the U.S., there are over 600,000 open manufacturing jobs, and Arkless believes that this number, in conjunction with the high national unemployment rate, shows that there’s a gap in skills needed and skills taught.

So what is the U.S. doing wrong?

China’s preparation for young people goes something like this:

  • An integrated system forecasts the skills needed to fill both future and current jobs
  • Students are evaluated, then encouraged to pursue whichever skill-set fits them best
  • In some cases, the government offers heavy incentives, like paid education and training for open jobs

The result? After this evaluation system was put into place, Tianjin, China saw medium and small business growth increase by 300% over the last two years. There are real results to be seen here, so it’s not just some hypothetical.

This system runs in direct contrast to the U.S., where small business (especially those involved in manufacturing) are having a lot of trouble finding workers with the skills they need. In the U.S., students are encouraged to pursue higher education, but are not given much incentive to pursue certain fields.

A complicated answer

Though the answer to filling open jobs may not be just throwing money at training, some incentive to work towards a degree that would be useful for future jobs could help solve the problem. There’s no effective communication between employers, educators, and the government, and that’s a real problem.

It’s estimated that filling the 600,000 skilled jobs in manufacturing would increase the GDP of the U.S. by 2.2 percent. That alone should be incentive to work out a system like China’s that helps bridge the skills gap. And for now? Students looking to go into the manufacturing field can research educational grants specific to manufacturing skills in the meantime.

photo credit: @yakobusan Jakob Montrasio 孟亚柯 via photopin cc

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