America’s Skilled Workforce and the College Completion Crisis

John Bridgeland argues that we need to broaden our attention on post-secondary education to bridge the gap between available jobs and a skilled workforce that can fill them.

How can it be, wonders John Bridgeland of Huffington Post, that in the middle of what has to be one of the biggest economic downturns of the last 100 years, and with the nationwide unemployment hovering around 10%, more and more companies are complaining about being unable to find enough qualified workers to fill all the available jobs? According to Bridgeland, who co-wrote a HuffPo article with Jessica Milano, the rub is understanding what “qualified” means.

For a lot of companies, “qualified” means some post-secondary education. Although more than 70% of U.S. high school graduates attend college, only about a bit over 50% actually complete their education in less than six years. “America has a serious college completion problem,” Bridgeland says, and this creates a divide between the level of skill attained by the workforce and the level of skill demanded by the job market:

Today, America has only 45 million workers who have the training and skills to fill 97 million jobs that require some post-secondary education. U.S. companies have to choose among importing skilled workers, outsourcing jobs, or relocating operations in markets overseas with a rising supply of skilled and affordable workers. At the same time, the nation has more than 100 million candidates for only 61 million low-skill, low-wage positions. If America wants to remain competitive, we will have to expand our supply of high- and middle-skill workers.

Bridgeland sees the solution is expanding the meaning of “post-secondary degree” to include both four-year and two-year diplomas. Furthermore, schools need to do more to make education affordable, possibly offering flexible schedules to allow students to “earn and learn.”

Bridgeland concludes that going forward, the U.S. economy depends on its ability to close the “skill gap” and provide a workforce that meets business demands.


  1. Concerned Teacher

    Why is it, then, we have so many underemployed college graduates? For example, a friend’s son with an environmental engineering degree just found a job shelving at the local Vons grocery store.

    Do we really need that many 4-year degrees, or do we need more with post secondary training. I was perusing sites with a senior today. He is aiming to be an EMT. He needs training, not a college degree. The career outlook is good and he can train beyond to become a paramedic. He would like to gradually become an emergency room nurse. Sounds reasonable to me.

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March 29th, 2011

Staff Reporter

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