Posts Tagged ‘Energy’

Panelists discuss ways to get the unemployed back to work. (Photo by Janay Christian)

By Henry Kerali

A policy summit that focused on jobs in the energy sector took place at the Newseum in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday.

Industry experts allege that while there is a growing demand for jobs, few people in the workforce have the skill set required for these positions.

Keynote speaker, Jane Oates, assistant secretary of ETA at the U.S. Department of Labor, acknowledged the disparity by saying that the government is doing more to help employees improve their skills.

“Getting people into a job is the single most important part of my job,” Oates said.

She highlighted the importance of Jobs Corps and Registered Apprenticeship – training programs that lead unemployed workers into jobs.

Apprenticeships are prevalent in companies in the manufacturing and construction trades. However, such programs are becoming more common in growing industries, such as the energy sector.

Oates mentioned that the Department of Labor is placing greater emphasis on apprenticeship programs providing workers with industry-recognized credentials. Oates says credentials are essential to aiding workers in establishing their careers.

“It’s not about getting a job; it’s about getting a career trajectory,” she said.

Skills Gap, Structural Unemployment

With the unemployment rate now lower than eight percent, displaced older workers, students entering the workforce and war veterans are among the demographics particularly affected by joblessness.

This is due in large part to a skills gap. In the manufacturing industry alone, as much as 600,000 jobs are going unfilled because of unqualified applicants. Economists attribute this to structural unemployment.

Panelists at the policy summit discussed the impact that this is having on the job market. Nicole Smith, senior economist at The Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, said that structural unemployment is an endemic problem.

On the manufacturing and construction industries, Smith said, “Where jobs [in that area] have been lost, they are not coming back, and where the jobs have been gained, they are in different sectors.”

Smith added that job growth has surfaced in post-secondary sectors, such as healthcare and education. But the main concern for her is not just the widening skills gap, but for the people who have been unemployed for six months or more.

“Many employers are reluctant to hire people who have been unemployed for a substantial number of months,” said Smith. “Once they see a few gaps [in your CV], they naturally assume that maybe you’re unemployable.”

Community Colleges

While that is the case, the panelists were in agreement over the role community colleges play in solving the conundrum the skills gap poses.

Clay Goodman, vice president of Occupational Education at Estrella Mountain Community College, said that community colleges provide an alternative to traditional four-year degrees. He also talked of a growing trend that is taking place in institutions across the country.

“Right now there’s a trend called ‘Reverse Transfer’,” he said. “People who have a four-year degree in, say, the liberal arts, are coming back to community colleges to get a skill set that has some economic value.”

But for Dave Owens, executive vice president of the Edison Electric Institute, he feels as though substantial improvements of the nation’s education system need to be made. He said that not enough children are interested in studying subjects like science, technology, engineering or mathematics.

“We’ve got to realign our curricula … so the curricula are practical to the jobs that are being created,” he said.

(Anchor lede voiced by Natalie Plumb. Story voiced and produced by Henry Kerali.)