The Skills Gap, Explained

September 7, 2018

American businesses are facing an unprecedented challenge: the labor force simply doesn’t have enough qualified workers. In fact, the labor force doesn’t have enough workers—period.

In August of 2018, there were 7.1 million job openings and 6.2 million unemployed people looking for work. Even if the 6.2 million unemployed were hired, there wouldn’t be enough qualified workers to fill the more than 900,000 jobs still left open.

The skills and training job seekers have often doesn’t match the experience required for specialized jobs in the emerging economy. This difference between the skills that employers are looking for and the training and experience that candidates possess is called the “skills gap.”

There are many factors contributing to the skills gap: some candidates lack industry experience, while others have not received the required training or lack the basic skills to fill open positions. According to a 2016 survey, 95 percent of Business Roundtable member executives said that skills shortages were at least “somewhat problematic” to finding talent for their companies. Over half said it was “problematic” or “very” problematic.

However, the bulk of the skills gap is the result of an educational system that hasn’t kept pace with the evolving economy. This gap has continued to steadily widen, hurting prospective workers, businesses, and the economy.

That’s why Business Roundtable member companies advocate for policies that address the skills gap where it starts: in the classroom. America’s business leaders believe that higher academic standards, better tracking of student performance, and a more robust early childhood programs are needed to prepare students for postsecondary education and a successful start in the workforce.


To ensure that workers are equipped with the skills to succeed, educational programs at all levels must better align with the needs of the modern economy. Companies from across the country are doing their part by partnering with local educational institutions to create internship and apprenticeship programs, industry awareness events, and updated credentialing practices that enhance workforce preparedness.

Many business are targeting specifically the lack of STEM knowledge in potential hires. Almost 60 percent of Business Roundtable executives said that data science and computer science were “very relevant” to their current openings. However, roughly half of executives indicated that these skills were also “very problematic” to find.

America’s business leaders understand that STEM education -- science, technology, engineering and math -- doesn’t begin with an advanced computer science degree; it begins with early exposure to STEM and strong math, science, and reading skills in K-12 education. Programs like Manufacturing Day, an initiative supported by the Business Roundtable-led National Network, facilitate this early exposure to through hands-on experiential STEM learning for students who visit companies.

"... America’s CEOs have long said technology should join reading, writing and math as a foundation for ensuring a child’s education,” said Wes Bush, Chairman, Chief Executive Officer and President of Northrop Grumman and Chair of the Business Roundtable Education and Workforce Committee. “CEOs also believe that expanding the opportunities to pursue STEM study and careers is in America’s national interest..."

As a complex issue with many contributing factors, the skills gap requires a multifaceted response that brings together stakeholders across education, business, and public policy. With a fully aligned approach, these groups can ensure that workers have the right opportunities and the right incentives to gain the most needed skills.