Moving Across All Fronts: A Skills Gap Update

By Dane Linn, Business Roundtable

September 13, 2018

For CEOs, the skills gap is no academic exercise. It is a very real business challenge that occupies much of their time and energy. After all, without the right people to do the job, no company can long survive, much less compete and grow, in the global economy.

Across the economy, employers are not finding qualified candidates to fill open jobs. That primary business challenge drives much of our work at Business Roundtable. It shapes our positions on a host of policy issues, informs our decisions on what initiatives and partnerships to engage in and fuels our discussions with our CEO members who are implementing solutions to address this challenge.

Last week offered three fresh examples of how we are moving across all fronts to tackle the skills gap.

First, Business Roundtable President John Engler used his opportunity to testify before a key Congressional committee to press for real action by the federal government to prepare future workers for the jobs of today and tomorrow.

“We need to make sure individuals get and keep current the skills to succeed in today’s workforce, so that they can continue to move along their career pathways to bigger and better jobs,” Engler told the House Ways and Means Committee as it considered options to reform a signature federal aid program. “That’s how we move people off of welfare and keep them on their feet.”

To do its part to close the skills gap, President Engler called on Congress to reduce overlapping education programs, increase opportunities for states to use federal funds to meet local needs and leverage the upcoming authorizations of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, the Perkins Act and the Higher Education Act to put government resources to work as effectively as possible.

This message squares neatly with the powerful words of Steelcase Inc. CEO and President Jim Keane in a new video. This latest testament by a CEO on why the skills gap matters and how our companies are working to close it adds another persuasive voice to a growing chorus.

“Businesses have an obligation to invest in the people who work for us today and to encourage the people who work for us to invest in themselves,” Keane explains. That is one reason why the company runs its highly successful Steelcase University in the United States and Europe to keep its current employees’ skills up to date.

Like many manufacturing companies, however, Steelcase faces a triple threat: rapidly retiring Baby Boomers, a lack of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) qualified candidates for open positions and low levels of non-technical skills such as teamwork and leadership among technically qualified job seekers.

“We need to replace those people with new people we hire, and yet those new jobs are fundamentally different than the jobs we might think of as manufacturing jobs in the past,” Keane says. Steelcase has responded with partnerships with local colleges and other innovative programs to prepare and recruit the best candidates possible.

It will take a host of such efforts to ensure all individuals have the essential competencies to succeed in the workplace, however. That is one reason why I was proud to host the members of the National Network of Business and Industry Associations in our offices last week as well.

The National Network, which is led by Business Roundtable, is marching forward in its efforts to better connect the worlds of learning and work. I am especially gratified to see the progress National Network members are making to create competency-based hiring tools and promote the use of Common Employability Skills to help education and training institutions better prepare their graduates for the job needs of CEOs like Jim Keane.

To learn more about Business Roundtable efforts to close the skills gap, please email me at