A Fresh Take on the Skills Gap

By guest poster, Brett Pawlowski, EVP of the National Center for College and Career Transitions.


A relatively new think tank called Third Way has recently released an analysis on the national skills gap. Noting that others have provided very different views depending on the limited data sets they looked at, Third Way instead decided to get a broad look at several different fields by reviewing multiple factors including job fill rates, wage gains, education and credential attainment, employer surveys, and state analyses of labor supply and demand. Their analysis is provided here. (Look past the charts at the top; there’s lots of good data further down.)

In some cases their report lined up well with what people in CTE have been saying, while in others there was a real disconnect. And I was greatly surprised that, for a policy-focused think tank, they failed to look at the impact that policy has on workforce demand.

For example, I think everyone would agree that healthcare and social assistance is flashing a “code red,” but they failed to note that some of the greatest demand for workers is at the lower-end, with assistants that make minimum wage or close to it and require little more than a college degree. When I’ve looked at regional supply and demand in nursing for a few clients, on the other hand, it seems there’s actually an oversupply of people graduating from nursing programs compared to the number of new positions coming available.

They highlight a critical shortage of tech workers in the professional and business services category as well, but fail to note that the H1b program, which brings around three million people from overseas to the US in a tech capacity, are pushing down wages and making it hard for citizens to compete.

Manufacturing is the biggest surprise; whereas CTE organizations and the media highlight a critical lack of workers, Third Way only rates this as a “moderate” shortfall, ranking below education in terms of crisis levels. (Education is in crisis, according to Third Way, solely due to a lack of STEM educators.)

I would encourage people to look at this analysis, as it offers a fresh approach, but I would also caution people from accepting their results at face value – I think there’s a lot more that needs to be considered before you can have a truly comprehensive understanding of the skills gap issue.


Brett Pawlowski is the Executive Vice President of NC3T, the National Center for College and Career Transitions (www.nc3t.com).  NC3T provides planning, coaching, technical assistance and tools to help community-based leadership teams plan and implement their college-career pathway systems and strengthen employer connections with education.

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