Trades: Possible Solutions to the Skills Gap

Since 2012, employers have been noting a workplace skills gap. As of 2019, this gap has become a big topic of conversation between state governments, education systems and private industry. There is some debate as to whether this is a true skills gap or in part a wage gap for jobs that no one is willing to fill, but it appears to be a combination of both. A generation ago, companies automatically trained incoming employees. Back then, students were exposed to more “trades” skill classes at the middle and high school level.

Over the course of the last 20 years, four things have changed drastically—workplace job training has decreased, education reform has taken those “exploratory” classes out of the curriculum, the de-unionizing of workplaces has left the paid training options few and far between and the 2008 recession which left wages slow or stagnant. The rippling effect has been an entire generation of students turned employees who have not ever seen, let alone been taught these skills so desperately needed in the trades. While many from all sides will agree that each of those factors is not solely to blame, the combination of all four happening within close proximity to each other (or possibly by causation) has created what we have today as the “workplace skills gap,” and it must be addressed.

Workforce Obstacles
What are some obstacles that people who are already in the workforce face when trying to get training for jobs? According to the National Skills Coalition, there are two at the top of the list: financial aid access and affordable childcare. Financial aid is not always available for shorter programs. Pell grants traditionally have been awarded to programs that require 600 hours of learning time. Right now, there are 12 states asking Congress to adjust this to 150 hours of job training as part of an expansion program to address the skills gap. For almost 33% of the workforce, the issue of affordable childcare stands in the way of acquiring much needed training and skills acquisition. Mississippi awarded a grant to the Moore Community House Women in Construction (WinC) program in collaboration with TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) and SWFI (Strengthening Working Families Initiative) to offer childcare to single mothers who were enrolled in pre-employment and work-based learning. This has tripled the number of participants in the WinC training program since 2016.

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Possible Solutions
With all great problems, great solutions emerge. Several forms have come into view in the last few years to help address workforce training. Career Technical Education (CTE) is on the rise. Many manufacturing companies have begun offering competitive wages to recruit quality people. Community colleges, private industry and state governments have collaborated to create programs that offer high school students (soon to be graduates) who want it, immediate training and employment opportunities. Many state governments have gone back to funding workplace skills programs in K12 systems to give them the support they need to address from the ground up. Paid apprenticeships have reemerged as career pathways for those who do not want to attend a four-year degree program.

The US Department of Labor has widened is Apprenticeship, Adult Training, and Trade Acts Programs since 2015, offering resources to both employers and employees.

Many states in very recent years have rolled out new legislation and funding to reintroduce trades as an option for high school students who decide that is the right career path.

Bridging the K12 education system with optional workforce training seems to be the effective next step. Critics, however, warn of not repeating the mistakes of the past, where discriminatory practices left marginalized populations pigeonholed into low wage jobs. If done correctly, and with modern day philosophy of inclusion and equity, K12 can help close this skills gap as well.  A clear distinction is needed in what education professionals see as “critical thinking” and how industry professionals see it. Traditional K12 has used an abstract approach to teach skills, whereas in the workforce it’s more of a concrete skill set. Ask any teacher who’s been in the classroom for the last 20 years and he or she will brag to you about the amount of time they spend building critical thinking skills with their students. These same students have entered the workforce and employers have observed a lack of this ability. There’s a disconnect somewhere and it needs to be talked about and addressed.

Companies such as Amazon, General Electrics, Lockheed Martin, and AT&T have already planned to train or retrain employees in needed skills, both in technical proficiencies and character traits as part of their skill building. Industry 4.0 has caused large corporations to examine the investment of training existing and new workforces to keep up with innovation and advancement of industry standards and the speed and frequency with which they update.

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The possibilities are endless and within each field there are abundant ideas of how to resolve the skills gap.

At CuroGens, we believe that a one-size-fits-all approach no longer applies. We offer a philosophy and technology that promotes careful and purposeful content creation, whether it is for a blended learning approach in the corporate classroom, site/field specific training, or personalized learning. If you would like to hear more about how CuroGens Learning Academy can help your business address its learning needs, contact us at