THE BLOG
09/29/2015 12:39 pm ET Updated Sep 28, 2016

Investing in the American Workforce

A recent poll conducted by the Gallup-Lumina Foundation found that while Americans may be politically polarized, they all agree that the United States needs to invest in the talent of its workforce. Talent is defined as "the knowledge or skills people develop or obtain through education, work or other life experiences."

As an estimated 10,000 baby boomers reach retirement age every day, employers across sectors are competing for experienced candidates from a fast-shrinking talent pool. Those polled by Gallup agreed that, "the federal government should make it a high priority to increase the talent of our nation's workforce." And 89 percent agreed with the statement that cities must commit to increasing talent among their citizens in order to have "stronger economies, better quality of life and greater prosperity."

There is also widespread consensus among various demographic groups. When asked if the federal government should step in and make increasing the talent of the nation's workforce a priority, there was no difference in opinion among racial groups (87 percent of whites and 88 percent of nonwhites agree) and income groups (89 percent of households making less than $24,000 a year and 89 percent of households making more than $90,000 agree).

What is most significant is the role higher education plays in this discussion. There is strong support for "redesigning the nation's higher education system to better meet students' needs as a means to increase the country's talent pool. "

This poll confirms what community colleges have known for decades: Americans view higher education as essential to economic prosperity for their cities and towns. Many jobs now require some college education or a completion of a certificate program that enables students to practice a trade, become an EMT or work in the hospitality industry, among others.

We need continued partnerships with local businesses to train the workforce. Many community colleges meet regularly with the business community to create curriculum that accomplishes this. In some instances, the colleges hire employees from these businesses to work as adjunct professors.

These companies also provide apprenticeships so that students can earn while they learn. Ivy Tech in Indiana has done this for years with our manufacturing companies.

Community colleges should be part of a team of civic leaders, politicians, and business leaders that reaches out to manufacturing companies looking to re-locate or a build a new factory. This partnership will prevent companies from shipping their plants overseas.

High school guidance counselors should encourage motivated students to take courses at community colleges in their senior year. These courses are recognized by both the local community college as well as many four-year institutions. They also reduce student debt.

The skills gap in this country can be addressed, and free community college is one way - to train the workers of the future.

The Gallup-Lumina Foundation poll found that both Democrats (90 percent) and Republicans (89 percent) agree that cities committed to increasing talent among their citizens are more likely to have a stronger economy.

We need to put our political differences aside and work together as a country to strengthen our economy by investing in education. America once beat the world in innovation, creating entrepreneurs and economic growth. By getting down to business and developing our workforce, we can do so once again.