Today's workplace is not the same as our parent's traditional workplace where a high school education and a willingness to work was a ticket to success. For a majority of our parents, their employment expectations included full-time employment with a fixed career objective and a comfortable retirement package to reward their efforts. They defined themselves through their jobs and identified themselves through the work they performed believing that if they were loyal employees, worked hard and followed the rules they could eventually climb the corporate ladder and achieve financial and personal success. For many, their work environments consisted of telephone land-lines and IBM Selectric typewriters, and figuring out how to load the paper in the office Xerox machine was considered high tech.
In contrast, today's workers can expect to change jobs and even their careers many times during their employment. They must be able to keep up with the increased pace of technological changes and no longer does a high school diploma guarantee employment. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, today, 62% of all U.S. jobs now require two-year or four-year degrees or higher, or they require special postsecondary occupation certificates or apprenticeships.
At the same time, according to the PEW Research Center, as of October, 2008, approximately 15% of young adults ages 18 to 24 did not complete high school; in fact, currently the United States is now the only industrialized country where young people are less likely than their parents to earn a diploma. Further, according to a newly released Census Bureau report, although college enrollment among 18 - 24 year old young adults has increased to 39.6%, approximately 60% of these students are projected to drop out of college before completing their degree programs. Contrast these figures to the fact that the percentage of jobs that will require a two-year or four-year degree or special occupational training is projected to be 75% by the year 2020, and one begins to understand the workforce dilemma facing today's labor market.
With the decline in skilled workers including the massive exodus of baby boomers expected to leave the workforce in the next decade, the elimination of low-skilled jobs and the drop in talent necessary to fill high-tech/knowledge-based positions, many employers are beginning to experience a shortage in their labor pools. A new sense of urgency has entered the workforce and although the unemployment rate is projected to reach approximately 10.5% by next year, the need for highly skilled workers is accelerating at an alarming rate. STEM jobs, (i.e., jobs that are emerging in the science, technology, engineering, or mathematical fields), are even now being outsourced to countries such as Japan, Singapore or other countries with highly educated labor pools. And this situation is only projected to get worse. According to a recent article published in "The Futurist" and written by Edward Gordon, within the next decade "some technology-based industries will be seeking to replace 100% of their workforce."
How we choose to address these challenges determines the economic stability of our country for years to come. Business leaders, educators, labor and union organizations and government officials must play a more active role in investing in an improved educational system; while at the same time, employers must look to creating new workplace strategies for tomorrow's workers. Cooperative efforts must take place to promote and expand successful public-private partnerships which include mentoring programs, internships and vocational and technical opportunities, just to name a few. It is imperative that workforce leaders recognize that our educational system is directly proportional to our country's economic success.
In addition, shifts in generational values and attitudes need to be addressed. Today's workers are more interested in maintaining a work-life balance; they are seeking jobs that offer flexible work arrangements to address both the needs of their employers but also the needs of their families. They are looking for jobs that offer arrangements such as workplace health programs, telecommuting options, green sustainability and job share and part-time options. In order to recruit and retain the talent pool necessary to address tomorrow's challenges, employers must seriously consider the deficiencies in today's workforce and begin to develop solutions to better improve our educational system, create new incentives to attract tomorrow's workers, and stay competitive in a global marketplace.