COMMENTARY, PART 6: The Four Partners

“The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.” (Albert Einstein, who else?)

There are times when small problems grow larger than our capacity to solve them, at least at our current level of thinking.

I believe we are at one of those times. Over the last five weeks, I’ve offered commentary on major workforce and cultural trends. (See them at Today I conclude this series with a firmly held belief in a trend which this country must develop as forcefully and firmly as possible, for the long – very long – term, in order to solve a large – very large – problem.

That trend would be a four-way partnership which, in my view, is the only way to meet the demands of the 21st century workplace with an abundant supply of highly-skilled, broadly-educated workers, thereby (a) regaining the edge in global competitiveness and (b) ensuring that the core pillar of the American dream – each generation doing better than its predecessor – will continue to stand.

The four partners in this effort must be: the employer, higher education, government, and the individual. To understand and accept this premise, please look at the problem.

First, although the American job market is in considerably better condition than it was six years ago when the great recession began – and the improvement, which began at the end of 2009, is sustaining – it will be several years before we’ll shake off all the effects. One of those lingering effects is what’s called the skills gap, an understandable but inexcusable phenomenon where, with nearly 12 million unemployed people, there still are nearly four million open jobs which employers are not filling because they cannot find workers with the right skills. Were those four million candidates sufficiently skilled – and hired – the unemployment rate would drop from 7.6 to 5.0 percent in one day.

Second, the US continues to slip further down the global ranking of the world's most competitive economies, according to the World Economic Forum (WEF), falling from 5th to 7th this year, our fourth consecutive year of decline (we were first in 2008-09). One reason? We rank 22nd in high school graduation rates and 16th in college completion (and they’re slipping, too).

Without all-inclusive, sweeping action to reverse this slippage, the downward spiral will continue: fewer jobs filled, more long-term unemployment, less purchasing power, fewer goods sold by US companies, less money for education – and then the whole thing cycles again and again.

On the other hand, the four partners, firmly committed to the highest mutual goals, can make the change, but only if all assume their responsibilities.

First, employers should recognize the out-of-date set of skills in our workplace and accept that a whole flock of perfectly skilled workers is not liable to show up out of the blue anytime soon. Yet employers have cut back or cut off any long-term training programs. Those who say that it’s the private sector that creates jobs, then, are overlooking the private sector’s new responsibility: to help build an up-to-date workforce. Employers must invest more in long-term, high-level training.

Second, the education system, both secondary and higher, must realize that it has not adequately prepared a nation of students for the competitive global markets of the present, let alone the future. Community colleges have made strides and some four-year colleges are doing so, but so much more has to be done. The tricky balancing act, though, is to rearrange curricular standards to make two accommodations at the same time: increase specific technical skills – STEM: science, technology, engineering, math – while developing a broader approach to the arts and letters, yes, liberal arts. Among the most oft-cited skills deficits are communication (notably, writing), critical thinking, decision making, and problem solving.

Third, the government must intercede. This is a national issue, (even a national security issue, if you think about it), and if the private sector is stubbornly refusing to do what this nation critically needs – train its workforce – then who will? Someone has to promote the common good – and the government, which in the last five years has begun to step up – is the one to do it. High on the WEF’s global competitiveness chart are countries where the government plays an active role (not big, not small, but active). Yet here, sadly, public funding for education is down in 48 states.

And fourth, the individual. Once we’re done laying blame on the other three players, it’s time for each individual to take charge, make plans, and then execute. Given the current state of affairs, the only one who can take the first step and do something about this right now is the one to whom this means the most: the job seeker.

History is the story of decisions. There is in front of us the need to make one of the most profound decisions in our history. Other countries have made that decision and are proving they were right.

It is now time for our decision – at a higher level of thinking.

[There. For six weeks I have spoken my piece as a commentator, for what it’s worth. Next week it’s back to coaching.]

Career Coach Eli Amdur conducts workshops and one-on-one coaching in Job Search, Career Planning, Resumes, and Interviewing. Reach him at or 201-357-5844. Please visit and "like" him at