10/31/2012 11:19 am ET Updated Dec 31, 2012

Supporting the Workforce of the 21st Century

While our economy still struggles to recover from the largest economic downturn since the Great Depression, maybe it's time to look at ways to solve the problem through a slightly different lens. We spend so much time focusing on macro jobs reports and stock indexes that we often forget that one of the most basic elements of any successful economy is an able and ready labor pool -- without trained workers, we cannot move the dial on the economy.

In today's 21st century economy, middle-skilled jobs that don't require a college degree are disappearing, and soft skills, like communication and information processing, are more important than ever. In the past, back office and factory jobs were tickets to the middle class, with a livable wage and great benefits. But today, workers need enhanced and refined skills to compete in the global economy. Without them, fewer Americans will have the opportunity to achieve the American Dream.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statics, there are 3.7 million job openings even though 12.1 million Americans are still unemployed. Simply put, not enough of our workforce is properly trained for the jobs of today or the jobs of tomorrow.

But there's a way to start changing that.

The problem is that our nation's workers are equipped with skills of the past. We need to train our workers for both the jobs of today and the future. At Bank of America, we're providing $22 million in grants to partner with approximately 1,000 nonprofit organizations across the country that will provide the American workforce with the skills necessary to lead us to economic prosperity. It's not about focusing on any one industry -- it's about training people for jobs and opportunities that exist in their community -- whether that means tech jobs, green jobs, health care jobs, or for that matter any sector.

We're working with the Community College of Baltimore County to provide customized job training to students age 50 and older that will allow them to find jobs and earn an income again. And we're partnering with SER Metro-Detroit Jobs for Progress to extend job readiness, career coaching, job placement and financial services to low-income and unemployed Detroit residents. In addition to numerous work force development programs, the bank also has a history of supporting small businesses with credit and investing solutions, a $12 million CDFI loan loss reserve grant program that provides about ten times the capital to small businesses so that they can grow and create more jobs, as well as our $55 million Energy Efficiency Finance Program that creates both jobs and energy efficiency gains through long-term loans and grants to support the upfront investment costs for building owners. These efforts are all part of getting the American people back on their feet and our economy working again.

While there are many things that foundations and corporations can do, there's an opportunity for each of us to provide mentoring or coaching to those who need help along the way, whether it's making sure a young person stays in school or connecting an unemployed worker to the right training program or even helping hone his or her interview skills. I know that when I started working, the mentoring I received along the way made a significant difference, and I'm honored to play that role for young people today who need the extra help.

The pathway to national economic success begins with a properly-trained and highly-skilled workforce -- and there is not a one-size-fits-all solution -- young people, older workers, veterans and individuals with barriers to employment all need the educational training, along with helpful guidance and support. Our people need it, our country needs it, and our future needs it.

So, let's start in earnest the hard job of preparing the workforce through job training and mentoring. We can all make a difference and get America ready to work!