Communities across the country are struggling with how to develop a competitive workforce. As U.S. Chamber President and CEO Tom Donohue has said, “We have jobs without people and people without jobs.” The skills gap, a mismatch between what those entering the workforce know how to do versus the skills needed for available jobs, is not isolated to one company, one industry, or one region. It has contributed to 5.6 million unfilled jobs and millions more people who are unemployed or underemployed.
Rather than continue to talk about the problem, employers are ready for action. In 2014, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation (USCCF) started the Talent Pipeline Management (TPM) initiative with the support of Strada Education Network. TPM is an employer-led approach to closing the skills gap and applies supply chain management principles to talent acquisition. For many employers, the concept resonates because it makes business sense. Their willingness to engage has fueled our goal to inform the employer community and demonstrate how TPM can be operationalized to create shared value for employers, education providers, and most importantly, students and employees.
Historically, business is just another player at the table in education partnerships. TPM, however, puts employer partners in a room with one another to have conversations driven by their needs, via what we call employer collaboratives (Strategy 1). Employers identify what factors or unfilled positions are inhibiting them from growing their businesses (Strategy 2) and what kinds of skills are needed to fill those positions (Strategy 3). The TPM process examines where employers are getting their talent and if those training partners have the ability to fill the needed demand (Strategy 4). From there, the approach explains how to use data to identify which rewards employers can provide their training partners to help them become more responsive to employer needs (Strategy 5), ultimately providing a smoother and more successful transition to employment for learners.
These strategies were not created in a vacuum—the original TPM network of business-led organizations tested out these theories and provided invaluable feedback that led to the creation of the TPM Academy. The Academy is a train-the-trainer model that unpacks the six TPM strategies into a curriculum that participants can apply to projects in their communities. Since October, USCCF has welcomed 44 participants from across the country, representing chambers of commerce, economic development agencies, and trade associations. These business-facing leaders are interested in solving skills gap challenges in health care, manufacturing, energy, transportation, food production, and other industries.
TPM has demonstrated the ability for employers to take a heightened leadership role in managing their relationships with each other and provider partners. However, we don’t claim to have found the silver bullet or once executed, it’s the answer to all of our prayers. It is a process meant to be reevaluated and modified based on the assumption that employer needs will change, and with it, the opportunity to create more crystal clear pathways for learner success (Strategy 6).
By applying a well-known approach differently, employers can better communicate their needs in order to build a talent pipeline, grow their businesses, and contribute to their communities.