Remember “Where’s the beef?” Originally a slogan to promote Wendy’s hamburgers, “Where’s the beef?” evolved into a phrase that questions the substance of an idea or product.
Today, a twist on that question might be “Where are the good jobs?” Because right now, too many people are struggling to find work that allows them to make ends meet, provide for their family and save for the future.
They need greater economic mobility and opportunity. They need better jobs.
Of course, few things are that simple. In many regions, employers can’t find workers with the necessary skills for high-quality open jobs. In northern New England in the U.S., employers in high-tech manufacturing and digital services are leaving because properly trained workers are in short supply.
A lot of ink is being spilled describing this mismatch between skills and available jobs. Here are some facts.
According to McKinsey, there are 75 million unemployed young people around the world, yet 40 percent of employers say a skills shortage is creating entry-level vacancies.
A recent Deloitte study predicted that the U.S. will need to fill 3.5 million manufacturing jobs over the next decade, but the nation faces a shortfall of two million skilled workers.
These studies are backed by personal testimonials of applicants told they aren’t qualified for work, and by employers frustrated by candidates without the skills necessary to run technologically advanced machines or programs.
Automation heightens this challenge. It is likely to reduce the number of available jobs further, with the consultancy PwC arguing that 45 percent of work activities can be automated.
Let’s be clear. There is not an easy solution to this problem. But that doesn’t mean we should despair, or look the other way. Because not only are people’s and family’s livelihoods at stake, so is global economic stability.
First, we need to continue to research this issue. As I mentioned, there is no shortage of experts discussing the causes and impact of the jobs-skills divide or the effect of increasing automation. It must continue so that we can make smart decisions about our complex and interconnected future.
Second, we need to continue to emphasize education and training programs that prepare people to work with advanced machinery or on programming. With machines and robots doing more of the jobs previously done by humans, workers must enroll in programs aimed at managing the tools of tomorrow.
By one estimate, 65% of children entering primary school today will end up working in jobs that don’t yet exist. Odds are those with technical skills will be the most prepared and adaptable.
Third, we need society-wide solutions. This isn’t a problem for government. It isn’t a problem for business. Adapting to new economic realities is a problem for entire communities to solve together. That’s why we need non-profit and community representatives at the table to ensure any solutions are inclusive and sustainable – and provide opportunity for everyone.
At United Way, we’re doing our part. Among our efforts, we’re teaming up with a program called Generation, launched by the McKinsey Social Initiative, that helps to place more unemployed young people into jobs in five countries, including the U.S. Additionally, local United Ways are ramping up their job creation and skill development efforts, such as in Cincinnati and Des Moines.
We’re also bringing people together to talk about challenges like economic opportunity in their communities. For 130 years, we’ve been society’s bridge-builders, forging unlikely partnerships to solve tough problems. It’s a role tailored to the issues of today, from jobs and opportunity to race and community divides.
I know that questions like ‘Where are the good jobs?’ hit home with people. As a society, we need to step forward and do more to develop skills and create opportunity so that more people know how to answer it.