Bridging the Workplace Skills Gap

with Thomas Gentzel of the National School Boards Association

Research shows that many high school students graduate lacking the skills necessary to succeed professionally. What efforts are underway to create a talent pipeline for America’s 7 million vacant jobs?

Thomas Gentzel, Executive Director and CEO of the National School Boards Association, discusses efforts to ensure students are better prepared for college, career and life.

Posted on:

Dec 02, 2019

Hosted by: Ellee Pai Hong
Produced by: National Newsmakers Team

Pai Hong: Currently, in the United States, there are about 7 million job vacancies with a lack of qualified workers to fill them. A recent report from the National School Boards Association points to a lack of workplace skills as a contributing factor to this labor shortage. Hello. Welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I'm Ellee Pai Hong. Joining me to discuss efforts to close this gap and provide students with the necessary skills to lead a successful career and life is Tom Gentzel. He is executive director and CEO of the National School Boards Association. Tom, thanks so much for coming in. Appreciate your time. Gentzel: Thank you. Great to be here. Pai Hong: You know, the last time we had unemployment numbers as low was about 50, 60 years ago, and back then, all you needed was a 12th-grade education. Nowadays, it's very different. Gentzel: The world has really changed. The workplace has changed. So a lot of those jobs that just required a high-school diploma are pretty much gone. But the good news is we have a lot of jobs that require some technical certification, pay really well, that are not being filled. So our focus now is at least on making sure that students in school are aware of those opportunities and they have the means to be able to fill those positions. Pai Hong: Yeah, an interesting statistic I read is that 4 out of 10 who graduate from college are actually underemployed. So, when you talk about these careers where you can make a very good living, it sounds pretty lucrative and pretty attractive.

Gentzel: Absolutely right. I mean, I want to be really clear -- we think going to colleges are a really great idea, but it's not necessarily the right path for everybody, especially for those who can fill some of these technical positions and do so, really, starting in high school. Many of them can acquire the certifications they need even before they graduate [and be able to work right -- move right into the workforce. Pai Hong: You know, I've heard a lot of partnerships with industry and community colleges, but this is really going younger into the age spectrum with high schools because people are expressing -- industries are expressing a need, and they know high-school graduates can fill this need.

Gentzel: Well, and what we're hearing from industry is both the concern about the lack of technical qualifications, but, also, concerns about the lack of soft skills, meaning a lot of students, when they graduate high school, really aren't prepared to go into a workforce, to be a part of a team, to be dependable and showing up on time -- all of those things. So we're trying to focus on both of those to make sure that students are aware of what the workplace is like. And, frankly, this is important for everybody. For those who go on to college, they're going to be in the workforce at some point. So it's a benefit to have this conversation early and to be partnering with the business community. Pai Hong: And let's talk about this soft-skills component a little bit because, growing up, I didn't have anyone teach me, "You have be at work on time. You have to be dependable. You have to work with other people." Is this a generational shift?

Gentzel: I think it's generational, but there's a data point here that I think is really important. About 40 years ago, almost 6 out of every 10 teenagers had some kind of a job -- a part-time job, a summer job. Today, it's just a little over 1 out of 3. So fewer and fewer students actually have the experience of working even part-time and then acquiring those soft skills as a result. So, this is something we have to focus on to make sure that they're well prepared to be successful, to be life ready, as we say, when they graduate high school.

Pai Hong: Yeah, because you learn math, reading, and science skills. But you think about these life skills that you mentioned -- critical thinking, decision making -- those are the skills that are going to take you far in your career.

Gentzel: Right, and, you know, [this isn't like a course that we're proposing -- "These are the life skills you need to learn." Frankly, these can be taught throughout the school, and starting in elementary school. These are skills that students need to be acquiring. So what we're finding is that the business community is really interested in partnering with public education to help make sure that we're doing all this and that we're making sure that students are aware of the career opportunities that are out there, that we give them the chance to get into some of the manufacturing facilities and other places to see what those jobs are like. I spoke with somebody from a major insurance company, and they said -- you know, they talk to high-school students, and they say, "Well, you know, I'm not really interested in selling insurance." Then they said, "Well, you don't need to. We have the largest IT operation in this whole area. We need people to work in our computer systems." So, just helping students be aware of that those kinds of jobs are out there and, again, the path they need to take to get them, I think would be a big step forward.

Pai Hong: It's a proven model, it obviously works.

Gentzel: It is, yeah.

Pai Hong: Yeah, alright. Tom Gentzel, thank you so much for joining us. Appreciate your time today.

Gentzel: Thank you.

Pai Hong: And thank you for joining us, as well. For more great conversations with leaders in your community and across the nation, visit I'm Ellee Pai Hong.

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