What is the Real Gap?

The “Skills Gap” has been referenced in recent media, mentioned regularly amongst industries and businesses, but how is the “Skills Gap” defined? Well, there are several different ways to define it and one of my favorites is: the difference between what an employer expects a new employee to be able to do on day one and what the employee is actually capable of doing. What causes this disconnect and what can be done about it?

Why does that difference in expectation and reality even exist and is that the true Gap? The 2016 McKinsey and Company report, Education to Employment, highlights some of the interesting facts behind the Skills Gap. Surprisingly, while over 72% of educators and teachers believed that their students were ready for the work world right out of school, less than 50% of students and employers agreed with that belief. That is a Real Gap!

The report also revealed that less than 25% of businesses have a regular, ongoing and real relationship with any school. Now, this doesn’t include a sign in the outfield of the high school baseball field, but a real relationship where they are working in collaboration with the school to best prepare the students for life after high school. Interestingly, for the 25% of businesses that do have a real relationship with schools, they also report having the least problem with a Skills Gap. For the 75% that do not have that relationship with a school, that is a Real Gap!

Over the past few years, Bridging America’s Gap (BAG) has been focused on this gap in the Skills Gap. In April, we hosted 2 Career Skills Events (CSE) in partnership with both SkillsUSA Chapters in Indiana and Wisconsin to bring together students, educators and businesses for open and honest sharing. Students were able to casually interact with young professional skilled craftsmen and women to get a better idea of what the true challenges and opportunities are that exist in any particular trade.

Imagine the surprise when a high school student who is focused exclusively on IT discovers that IT is more than just building and maintaining computers. When they discover how much IT is involved in diesel mechanics, or that merging welding and IT can lead you into robotics, you can see the proverbial light bulb go on over their head. This knowledge opens career pathways one may never have envisioned. Why would they be so surprised? Because unless students have the opportunity to interact with someone who is passionate about their career path in a skilled trade, students will never be exposed to additional opportunities in a field they are already passionate about. That is a Real Gap!

In today’s world of education where too many education systems focus on college as the only “true path of opportunity” students are rarely exposed to the other “path of opportunity”. If students don’t have a family member, a neighbor or a close family friend who is involved in the skilled trades, they may not be aware of what a great lifestyle plumbing, heavy equipment, manufacturing, welding, health care, culinary arts or any of the other skilled trade careers can provide. They will not learn that the average college student could avoid over $30,000 in debt to find a job that will pay them on average, no more than what any successful skilled trade person will earn in a given year. They will not learn that the proper trade skill certifications can be worth their weight in silver if not gold. That is a Real Gap!

At BAG, we have spent the last 4 years developing programs that bring students, educators and businesses together so that this story can be told one-on-one. If we want to build the pipeline that brings entry level employees into the trade skills, these are the steps that must be taken. If we don’t address this Real Gap, then we cannot fix the Skills Gap!

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