Too many workers, not few skills

“The picture of the U.S. economy that emerges is of abundance and poverty,” says Edward Gordon. “Abundance of labor, poverty of talent.” In other words, despite high unemployment rates, the United States does not have enough people to fill the jobs that should be created and an oversupply of people to fill jobs that are or should be obsolete.

The economy now sits in a hole more than 10 million jobs deep. How and when we can climb out of that humongous pit seems to be the linchpin for a full-blown economic recovery. According to Gordon, author of "Winning the Global Talent Showdown," the United States is headed for this major talent meltdown with 12-24 million vacant jobs between 2010 and 2020, mostly high-paying, high-skilled jobs.

The canary has been singing in the coal mine for several decades, warning of our growing lack of talent as we enter a transitional labor-market era. Partially due to ignoring the warning and partially the result of the most recent economic crisis, businesses and governments are now confronting a day of reckoning: prolonged joblessness for the unskilled, low-skilled, and under-skilled. “We’ve been hearing alarms about the skills gap for years,” according to Gordon, president of Imperial Consulting. “But if ever there was a time to get serious about helping workers acquire the right skills, this is it.”

Unfortunately, change in the way we train and educate workers and prepare students for the future is not what you’re hearing in the news. What we’re getting is the same old theme of denial. To reboot the economy and sustain growth, we can’t just reframe existing jobs. We need to stop creating jobs that employ the current talent pool of low-skill workers. Instead, we need to stimulate middle and high-skill job growth and start creating talent. Gone forever are the days of semi-skilled, well-paying blue-collar factory jobs that can provide a 19-year-old dropout or high school graduate with a living wage. Today, counting on a low-skill manufacturing or service job to keep you in the middle class is as sensible as buying a BETA tape for a Blu-Ray DVD player.

According to Gordon’s research, “between today and 2020, it is expected that 74% of all jobs created in America will be high-paying jobs for high-skilled workers. While there will be a need for 123 million of those talented people, only 50 million Americans will qualify. By contrast, low-paying, low-skill jobs will shrink to just 26 percent of the total jobs in the U.S. Worst of all, just 44 million people will be needed for those jobs, but 150 million or more candidates will be seeking those jobs.”

You can read more from the full article I just wrote for Business2Business Magazine, "What Jobs Won't Return," on my website.


Ira S Wolfe


  1. Ira S Wolfe April 8, 2010 at 1:44 pm -

    Bill- thanks for the feedback and kind comments. I don’t think just going back to school cuts it. I think a lot of what’s being taught is academically important but irrelevant for work preparedness. I also believe a lot of what’s being taught is for jobs with no future. My advice for graduates…don’t just use technology, figure out how to apply it. It’s not enough to just learn something anymore. Without application, it means nothing. That’s the great debate why not everyone needs a 4-year degree. Everyone needs more than 4 years of education after high school. But not everyone needs it one bunch of time to get it done with…then stop learning.

  2. Bill Jones April 8, 2010 at 9:26 am -

    Wow very interesting and stimulating piece. Do you think having the present market of worker “go back to school” would suffice? And what type of advice would you give the kid just getting out of high school?
    Thanks. Love the info by the way.