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  The Herman Trend Alert

January 25, 2012

US Playing Catch-Up

The other day I had the pleasure of interviewing Ed Gordon, a futurist specializing in career and technical education. Author of the "Winning the Global Talent Showdown" (Berrett-Koehler, 2009), Gordon is currently working on two thought-provoking ebooks, "The Talent Hunters" and "The Job Hunters", both expected later in 2012.

"The Talent Hunters" deals with the myth that the US does not have to worry about talent. In the past, we brought talent in or built factories in Germany, India, or China. The truth is there are workforce shortages in the US and in many other countries.

Previously people from China and India who came to the US for advanced degree stayed on to accept positions here. Now, they are returning home due to attractive business opportunities in their native countries.

According to Gordon's analysis of data from the Conference Board, US Bureau of Labor Statistics, and Society for Human Resources Management, in the US alone, there are 5 million vacant jobs, including a million jobs that employers have given up on filling---either because they sought too specialized skills or because they were unwilling to pay for the talent.

Most of the vacant positions are in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) areas and at least half require good literacy and numeracy skills---clearly a problem in the US and elsewhere. Most of these positions also require the candidates to have completed certificate or apprenticeship programs or to have had advanced on-the-job training. We will need huge numbers of workers to replace the many reluctantly retiring Baby Boomers.

The problem, according to Gordon is we are caught between two periods: "The Information Age" and "The Cyber-Mental Age". Prior to the Cyber-Mental Age (2010), we had a large percentage of jobs that required only minimal literacy and numeracy. Now, over 50 percent of the jobs require high levels of literacy and numeracy, plus critical thinking, communications and computer skills. Only about 27 percent of the US workforce has these abilities.

For years in the US and elsewhere, education has not kept pace with the skills needed for today's jobs and careers. On top of that, for years companies devalued internal training. They did not realize the long-term cost. Now companies are reconstituting their training departments and beginning to "grow their own" people with specialized skills.

Enter now, what Gordon calls Regional Talent Innovation Networks (RETAINs). These collaborative partnerships of businesses, educators and other groups in the community are creating new career and employment preparation systems that are responsive to local economic needs. Across the US over 1,000 RETAINs are now in existence that are helping to provide successful jobs pipelines to speed up the transition to the new Cyber-Mental Age.

It will take many years for the ReTaINs to become effective, so that they provide successful pipelines. It is no wonder that China had more nanotech patents than the US in many months last year.

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