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SHRM asks for skills gap relief ahead of State of the Union

  • President Donald Trump should address the need to upskill the U.S. workforce during Tuesday night’s State of the Union Address, Johnny Taylor, CEO and president of the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM), said in an online broadcast last week. “America’s skills gap crisis is one of the greatest threats to our nation’s long-term economic prosperity,” Taylor said.
  • Taylor called for solutions to fix the pipeline between educational institutions and employers, including those that emphasize continuous learning. He also asked officials to address solutions supporting employer-based healthcare and skilled immigration. “Any attempt at immigration reform must include modernizing the U.S. employment immigration system,” Taylor said. “Businesses need a system that is reliable, entirely electronic and integrated.”
  • Low unemployment and other positive economic metrics, “do not tell the full story of the transformational change taking place within the labor market and in our workplaces,” Taylor said, which has also made it more difficult to find quality talent. The presence of five generations in the workplace also presents challenges, forcing employers to rethink benefits, communication and employee experience, he added.

Dive Insight:

The world’s largest HR association has been vocal in encouraging stakeholders to tackle the skills gap in recent months, even deciding to join a White House initiative to increase training opportunities, like apprenticeships. Taylor had previously called on employers to rethink their strategies around finding scarce skilled talent, specifically suggesting they partner with educational institutions to ensure adequate training.

Job training has long been a clarion call for those in the HR field as studies attempt to pinpoint how many positions will be lost to automation and other tech advancements. The latest data from the World Economic Forum (WEF), for example, shows that the training costs for an estimated 1.4 million displaced U.S. workers could total $34 billion or more, a number it said employers would not be able to cover on their own. But WEF said employers could ease their burden by partnering with public-sector entities, namely government.

Even as automation ramps up heading into the next decade, the dynamics may not be as straightforward as predictions have led observers to believe; ManpowerGroup’s research has found automation prompts businesses to hire more human workers, not less. And while unemployment increased slightly in January, thousands of jobs remain open. Strong hiring markets tend to be indicators of a healthy economy, according to some economists. But The Wall Street Journal reported that small businesses are scaling back their hiring plans for a number of reasons, including post-shutdown effects, slowing sales, tariffs and a lack of confidence in the economy.

SHRM has attempted to get in front of these issues, but its methods have not always drawn support from the HR community. When it announced its inclusion in the White House jobs pledge, for instance, members took to social media expressing dissatisfaction with the move. SHRM received similar backlash just weeks ago after announcing a hiring pledge for workers with criminal backgrounds, an effort that saw it partner with the Koch Institute. In response to criticism for that move, SHRM said its efforts to “elevate the HR profession” required “the efforts of not only HR professionals, but also business leaders and policy advocates of all stripes.”

Trump is expected to hit many of the points mentioned by Taylor, though it is unclear if he will address the skills gap or employee training specifically. It is likely Trump will address immigration, given the issue’s role in the last government shutdown, but the president’s previous comments on skilled immigration — namely, that employers be able to hire “the smartest people in the world” — signal there may be more said on the subject specific to recruiting. The administration recently finalized changes to the H-1B visa application process, and Trump has previously stated the potential for a path to citizenship as well as “simplicity and certainty” for H-1B visa holders.

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