Researcher Discusses Wisconsin Skills Gap Findings

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Researcher Discusses Wisconsin Skills Gap Findings

Premiere Date: 
August 26, 2016

New research looks into how Wisconsin is investing into job training. Matthew Hora is an researcher for the Wisconsin Center for Education Research and led this project. He talk about what the skills gap is and how the state could be doing better.

 

Episode Transcript: 

WE'VE HEARD A LOT ABOUT THE SO-CALLED SKILLS GAP IN RECENT YEARS. IT'S THE CONCEPT THAT EMPLOYERS ARE LOOKING TO HIRE, BUT CAN'T FIND ENOUGH QUALIFIED WORKERS. THIS IS GOVERNOR WALKER IN HIS 2013 BUDGET ADDRESS.

 

SCOTT WALKER:

WE UNDERSTAND THAT THE STATE, WHICH IS ABLE TO FIX THE JOB SKILLS GAP IS THE STATE THAT WILL LEAD THE COUNTRY IN ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT. WE WANT WISCONSIN TO BE THAT LEADER.

 

ZAC SCHULTZ:

WISCONSIN HAS INVESTED MILLIONS IN JOB TRAINING PROGRAMS DESIGNED TO GET WORKERS INTO SKILLED TRADES AND A CAREER WITHOUT NEEDING A FOUR-YEAR DEGREE. BUT DO WE NEED TO RETHINK THE SKILLS GAP? THAT'S THE QUESTION RAISED BY UW ASSISTANT PROFESSOR MATTHEW HORA WHO JOINS US NOW. THANKS FOR YOUR TIME.

 

MATTHEW HORA:

THANK YOU VERY MUCH FOR HAVING ME.

 

ZAC SCHULTZ:

SO IS THE SKILLS GAP REAL? ARE THERE COMPANIES DESPERATE FOR WORKERS THAT JUST CAN'T FIND THEM RIGHT NOW?

 

MATTHEW HORA:

SO ONE OF THE ISSUES WITH THE SKILLS GAP -- AND THE IDEA IS NOT JUST THAT EMPLOYERS CAN'T FIND QUALIFIED WORKERS. IT'S THE IDEA THAT SLUGGISH JOB GROWTH AND ECONOMIC GROWTH IS SOLELY DUE TO A FAILED HIGHER EDUCATION SYSTEM. THAT IDEA ITSELF HAS HUGE GAPS. WHAT IT'S MISSING IS ACCOUNTING FOR THE OTHER VARIABLES THAT EXPLAIN ECONOMIC STAGNATION, HOW THE HIGHER EDUCATION SYSTEM FUNCTIONS AND HOW STUDENTS FIND CAREERS. AND ONE OF THE THINGS THAT WE FOUND IN OUR RESEARCH IS SOME OF THE THINGS THAT IT'S MISSING ARE ACCOUNTING FOR HOW EMPLOYERS HIRE AND TRAIN THEIR WORKERS OR NOT, ACCOUNTING FOR THE TYPES OF SKILLS THAT ARE ACTUALLY IN DEMAND IN THE LABOR MARKET. NOT JUST TECHNICAL COMPETENCY BUT A WHOLE HOST OF OTHER SOCIAL, ANALYTICAL AND INTELLECTUAL SKILLS. BUT PERHAPS MOST IMPORTANTLY, IT'S MISSING ANY ACCOUNTING OF CLASSROOM TEACHING AND THE WAY THE CURRICULUM AND INSTRUCTION, WHETHER IT'S IN A TWO-YEAR, A FOUR-YEAR OR A MOOC, IS ACTUALLY DESIGNED AND DELIVERED TO STUDENTS IN WAYS THAT CULTIVATE THEIR COMPETENCIES. AND SO I WISH I COULD ANSWER YES OR NO TO WHETHER OR NOT THERE'S A SKILLS GAP, BUT WHAT WE FOUND IN OUR RESEARCH AND LABOR MARKET ECONOMISTS HAVE ALSO FOUND, IS THE BASIC ASSUMPTIONS UNDERLYING THE STATEMENT OF A SKILLS GAP ARE SO FLAWED THAT WE NEED TO REJECT AND RETIRE THE TERM AND THINK IN A FAR MORE NUANCED FASHION ABOUT ISSUES FACING HIGHER EDUCATION AND THE LABOR MARKET.

 

ZAC SCHULTZ:

YOU INTERVIEWED PEOPLE IN THE WORKPLACE, MANUFACTURERS AND BIOTECH PEOPLE AND ALSO EDUCATORS. WHAT'S INTERESTING ABOUT SOME OF THE RESULTS IS THAT THE THINGS THEY'RE LOOKING FOR IN EMPLOYEES GO BEYOND JUST TECHNICAL ABILITIES. THEY WANT COMMUNICATION SKILLS, TEAM WORK, ALL THE INTANGIBLES.

 

MATTHEW HORA:

THAT'S RIGHT. SO WHEN YOU READ ABOUT THE SKILLS GAP AND HEAR IT TALKED ABOUT BY POLICY MAKERS, ONE OF THE PROBLEMS IS IT'S RARELY DEFINED. WHAT PRECISELY THE SKILLS ARE THAT ARE IN DEMAND. OFTEN IT'S LEFT UNSAID. SOMETIMES IT'S ASSUMED THAT THEY'RE TECHNICAL SKILLS ONLY. BUT WHAT WE HEARD FROM BUSINESS OWNERS AND HR PROFESSIONALS WAS THAT, YOU'RE RIGHT. THEY WANT THINGS LIKE ORAL AND WRITTEN COMMUNICATION, CRITICAL THINKING, TEAM WORK, ESPECIALLY THE ABILITY TO WORK ACROSS DIFFERENT CULTURAL GROUPS AS WISCONSIN AND THE UNITED STATES BECOMES MORE ETHNICALLY DIVERSE. PEOPLE ARE SEEING MORE AND MORE DIVERSITY WITHIN THEIR WORKPLACE BUT AN INABILITY OF PEOPLE TO CROSS SOME OF THOSE BOUNDARIES. THE THING THAT WE HEARD THAT WAS MOST SURPRISING WAS LIFE-LONG LEARNING. EMPLOYERS WANTING PEOPLE THAT HAD THE DESIRE AND THE ABILITY TO LEARN NEW THINGS, NEW WORKPLACE PROCEDURES, NEW TASKS, ANYTHING. THEY'RE FINDING THAT SOME PEOPLE ARE COMING OUT OF SCHOOLS AND TRAINING PROGRAMS THINKING THEY'RE GOING TO DO ONE THING FOR 40 YEARS AND THAT'S SIMPLY NOT THE CASE ANYMORE.

 

ZAC SCHULTZ:

ONE OF THE THINGS I HAVE HEARD A LOT, AS A REPORTER IN THE SKILLS GAP CONVERSATION IS, WELDERS, ELECTRICIANS, PIPE FITTERS, VERY DELIBERATE, SKILLED TRADES AND THAT'S WHERE A LOT OF THE FUNDING IS GOING TOWARDS. BUT YOUR STUDY SHOWS THAT THAT'S NOT WHERE THE JOB GROWTH IS EXPECTED TO COME FROM IN THE FUTURE.

 

MATTHEW HORA:

WELL, SO, WHEN WE WENT OUT AND TALKED TO BOTH EMPLOYERS AND EDUCATORS, WE VISITED A LOT OF TECHNICAL COLLEGES AND LIKE YOU MENTIONED ADVANCE MANUFACTURING AND BIOTECH COMPANIES. AND THERE'S CERTAINLY A DEMAND FOR AND JOBS FOR PEOPLE THAT DON'T HAVE A FOUR-YEAR DEGREE BUT MAYBE A TWO-YEAR ASSOCIATES OR A ONE -YEAR TECHNICAL DIPLOMA. ONE OF THE ISSUES, THOUGH, IS THERE'S A PRETTY DIVERSIFIED LABOR MARKET OUT THERE. RIGHT NOW ABOUT 23% OF THE WISCONSIN LABOR MARKET IS FOR HIGH-SKILL AND HIGH-WAGE JOBS. AND SO ONE OF THE THINGS THAT WE AND OTHER RESEARCHERS FEEL IS THAT THERE ALSO NEEDS TO BE MORE ATTENTION ON SOME OF THOSE UPPER SKILL/UPPER WAGE JOBS SO WE CAN START TO LIFT PEOPLE OUT OF POVERTY AND INCREASE THE MIDDLE CLASS. BUT THAT'S NOT TO SAY THAT ATTENTION SHOULDN'T BE PAID TOWARD A SKILLED TRADE. IT'S JUST THERE'S BEEN AN OVER-EMPHASIS ON SOME OF THOSE AT THE EXPENSE OF OTHERS.

 

ZAC SCHULTZ:

THIS ISN'T JUST A REPUBLICAN THING. DEMOCRATS AT THE FEDERAL LEVEL HAVE HAD SOME OF THE SAME ERRORS IN YOUR VIEW IN TERMS OF WHERE TO PLACE THE EMPHASIS ON SKILLS GAP.

 

MATTHEW HORA:

CORRECT. THIS IS A BIPARTISAN ADOPTION OF AN OVERLY-SIMPLISTIC NOTION THAT THE PROBLEMS WE'RE SEEING IN THE LABOR MARKET AND ECONOMY ARE SOLELY DUE TO HIGHER EDUCATION PROGRAMMING. AND WHAT WE FEEL BOTH PARTIES AND POLICYMAKERS AND RESEARCHERS ACROSS THE POLITICAL SPECTRUM ARE MISSING IS THE CENTRALITY OF TEACHING AND LEARNING. HOW PEOPLE ARE ACTUALLY TEACHING THESE SKILLS IN THE CLASSROOM IS, BASED ON OUR RESEARCH, KIND OF THE CENTRAL LEVERAGE POINT THAT WE NEED TO PUT OUR ATTENTION TO IF WE WANT PEOPLE TO ADOPT WHAT THE NATIONAL RESEARCH COUNCIL CALLS 21ST CENTURY SKILLS. THAT'S THE WHOLE RANGE OF COMPETENCIES I MENTIONED BEFORE. THE IDEA IS THE WORKPLACE IS CHANGING SO RAPIDLY THAT IF WE DON'T GIVE STUDENTS THESE WIDE RANGE OF SKILL SETS, WE'RE DOING THEM A DISSERVICE.

 

ZAC SCHULTZ:

SO WHAT NEEDS TO HAPPEN? IS IT JUST MORE MONEY INTO THE CLASSROOMS, INTO THE SCHOOLS? GIVE US A BRIEF RUNDOWN OF WHAT NEEDS TO HAPPEN TO CHANGE THIS.

 

MATTHEW HORA:

SO WHAT'S INTERESTING ABOUT THIS DEBATE IS MY ANSWER WILL BE SOMETHING THAT LEARNING SCIENTISTS AND EDUCATIONAL RESEARCHERS HAVE BEEN ARGUING FOR SINCE THE LATE 1970s. THAT WE NEED TO TRANSFORM CLASSROOM TEACHING, WHETHER IT'S IN KINDERGARTEN, TECHNICAL COLLEGE OR RESEARCH UNIVERSITY, FROM A LECTURE-CENTRIC TRANSMISSION OF INFORMATION TO PASSIVE STUDENTS MODEL, WHICH IS STILL DOMINANT, TO A MORE ACTIVELY ENGAGED, HANDS-ON EXPERIENTIAL EDUCATION. AND THAT'S SOMETHING THAT NEEDS TO HAPPEN. THE WAY IT HAPPENS, THOUGH, IS YOU CAN'T WAVE A MAGIC WAND AND HAVE THAT OCCUR BECAUSE BEHAVIOR CHANGE IS COMPLICATED. WE NEED MORE INVESTMENT IN TEACHING AND LEARNING CENTERS IN THE WISCONSIN TECHNICAL COLLEGE SYSTEM AND THE UW SYSTEM. WE NEED PROBABLY THE MOST IMPORTANT THING IS THE REINING BACK OF THE RHETORIC THAT IS DISPARAGING AND DIMINISHING THE TEACHING PROFESSION BOTH IN WISCONSIN BUT ALSO ACROSS THE COUNTRY, WHERE PEOPLE TALK ABOUT PROFESSORS AND TEACHERS BEING OVERPAID AND UNDERWORKED, WHERE THEY CAN BE REPLACED WITH MOOCS OR A SET OF KENNETH BURNS VIDEOTAPES. WHERE WHAT WE NEED -- AND THIS IS TAKING THE LANGUAGE FROM THE BUSINESS OWNERS WE SPOKE TO -- IS A CAREFUL APPROACH TO CULTIVATING STUDENTS HABITATS OF MIND AND WAYS OF THINKING SO THEY CAN BECOME HIGHLY SKILLED AND WELL-ROUNDED WELDERS OR HIGHLY SKILLED AND WELL-ROUNDED ACCOUNTANTS. IT'S NOT JUST ABOUT GIVING THEM A SHORT BOOT CAMP AND THE TECHNICAL SKILLS OF THAT PROFESSION BUT THEY NEED ALL THE SKILL SETS.

 

ZAC SCHULTZ:

ALL RIGHT. MATTHEW HORA, THANK YOU FOR YOUR TIME TODAY. WE APPRECIATE IT.

 

MATTHEW HORA:

THANK YOU VERY MUCH.


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