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ICYMI: Jobs for skilled workers are going unfilled

The Department of Labor reports 3.7 million jobs remain unfilled, despite the fact that nearly 13 million unemployed Americans are searching for work. Employers largely attribute this discrepancy to a lack of skilled workers, and many workers report the nation’s federal workforce development system is failing to provide the training and education they need to succeed.

On Thursday, the House Committee on Education and the Workforce approved legislation to help close this skills gap by fixing our broken workforce development system. The Workforce Investment Improvement Act of 2012 (H.R. 4297) advances commonsense changes to federal job training assistance by eliminating dozens of ineffective and redundant programs, strengthening the role of employers in workforce development decisions, and promoting new tools and initiatives that will help put more Americans back to work.

An article in the Los Angeles Times highlights the problem that the Workforce Investment Improvement Act of 2012 will help solve: 

With more than 12.7 million Americans unemployed, companies have no trouble attracting applicants. What's tougher for some firms is finding qualified workers. Just ask California Steel Industries.

The Fontana steel maker needs experienced electrical and mechanical technicians to help it make metal pipes and flat-roll sheets used in construction projects. The pay is good. An industrial maintenance mechanic can make $64,000 a year plus health benefits. In good years, company profit-sharing can boost pay by $5,000.

Still, California Steel is struggling to fill 18 openings.

While these workers don't need college degrees, they need at least two years of specialized training plus strong math, reading and writing skills. The plant is loud and filled with heavy machinery. And because the facility operates 24 hours a day, workers must rotate shifts, making it even harder to recruit, said Brett Guge, executive vice president of finance and administration.

"It's been a chronic problem for many years," Guge said. "You would think it'd be somewhat easier in this economy."

There's no doubt that the nation's sluggish labor market continues to favor employers, many of whom are holding back on hiring amid global uncertainty. In May, the national unemployment rate increased to 8.2% from 8.1% the previous month. Millions of U.S. workers have been jobless for so long that they've exhausted their unemployment benefits.

Still, companies in some industries or certain parts of the country are having difficulty finding workers. Tighter immigration enforcement has squeezed the nation's agricultural sector as farmers from Washington state to Georgia scramble to find enough field hands. Thinly populated North Dakota is so desperate for bodies to keep its oil boom going that the state's governor has pleaded publicly for out-of-state workers to relocate there.

In California, where the April unemployment rate was 10.9%, some renewable energy firms are searching hard for qualified engineers. So are technology companies in Silicon Valley, where the rush to produce next-generation mobile and tablet technologies has sparked bidding wars for top candidates, who can fetch starting salaries from $85,000 to $100,000.

"Everyone's vying for the same talent," said Shannon Callahan, a technical talent partner at Andreessen Horowitz, a Menlo Park venture capital firm. "They're all trying to build … the next great product."

Even firms that aren't designing the next iPhone are struggling. In a recently released study by recruiting firm ManpowerGroup, nearly half of U.S. employers surveyed said they're having trouble filling key jobs despite continued high unemployment.

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To learn more about the Workforce Investment Improvement Act of 2012, click here.

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