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by Phil Stott | November 14, 2014


With around 9 million unemployed people in the country, you'd think that U.S. firms would have no problem filling the 3 million or so open positions that are currently available. But you'd be wrong: despite the 3 to 1 ratio of jobseekers to unfilled jobs, many firms can't find people with the requisite skills to fill the positions they have. As a new report points out, that's not just a problem for those firms—the mismatch is causing the entire economy to cover.

A report titled Bridge the Gap: Rebuilding America's Middle Skillsa joint venture by Accenture, Burning Glass Technologies and Harvard Business School*—makes a stirring case for changing the way that talent is identified, recruited and trained. Describing the consistent failure of firms to find suitable candidates for "middle-skill" jobs (positions that require more education than high school, but less than a four-year degree), the Executive Summary to the report makes the following point:

"It is time we stopped accepting the cliché that America's job engine is stalled. Today, business leaders have a promising opportunity to work with educators, policymakers, and labor leaders to spark a revival of middle-skill jobs. To accomplish that, they must radically rethink their businesses' roles in nurturing talent. This will also require employers to accept leadership over America's system for educating aspiring workers and bringing the unemployed back into the workforce."

Assuming that the final sentence of that quote is not advocating that corporations take over the education system, there's little in there to disagree with: as I've written before, any lack of middle-skill expertise in the labor market is in large part attributable to companies themselves. Likewise, the solution seems fairly obvious: apprenticeships and training programs, with some input from companies into the curriculum of community colleges, technical institutions, and other organizations that prepare students with skills to go out into the workforce.

As you'll see in the infographic below, those solutions are exactly what Accenture is recommending to its clients who are grappling with this problem. Whether it can convince leaders to take on the task of digging their firms out of the hole they created in the name of cost-efficiency in the first place remains to be seen.

*An earlier version stated that the Harvard Business Review had contributed to the research. This has been corrected.