A skilled, prepared workforce is the cornerstone of economic competitiveness. Yet, by many measures, the United States is failing to develop the talent that U.S. businesses need to compete in the modern global economy. For instance, according to a Business Roundtable survey of its members, more than 95 percent of CEOs indicated that their companies suffer from skills shortages. This skills shortage is reflected in the broader U.S. labor market, as there are more than 3.9 million U.S. job openings, yet more than 11 million U.S. workers remain unemployed. These data points are indicative of an alarming trend: There is a persistent and growing mismatch between the skills that U.S. workers possess and the skills that U.S. businesses need. The long-term negative impacts of this “skills gap” on workers, families, businesses, governments and the economy are potentially profound and far reaching.
A nation’s capacity to develop a skilled, prepared workforce is inextricably linked to the quality of its education system. In the United States, however, disturbing gaps persist in these areas as well. Domestically, there are significant gaps in student achievement and educational attainment across a range of socioeconomic groups. Internationally, the United States continues to lag behind its peers in terms of student performance in mathematics, science and reading. To be clear, the U.S. education system is not getting worse — indeed, evidence suggests that it is improving. It is, however, failing to keep pace with both the demands of the modern global economy and the improvements observed in other nations.