Here’s an approach executives can use to tackle our ‘middle-skill’ jobs deficit

February 03, 2016

Do you know what a “middle-skill job” is? It is any aspect of work that requires some type of training or education beyond high school, but not a four-year college degree.

Do you know which country is having the most difficulty placing appropriately trained workers in those middle-skill assignments? It’s the United States, and the numbers are staggering.

According to data compiled by the National Skills Coalition and research found in the report “Bridge the Gap: Rebuilding America’s Middle Skills” that was written by the Harvard Business School:

• Forty-three percent of the available jobs in Massachusetts from now through 2020 will be middle-skill;

• While middle-skill jobs accounted for 46 percent of Massachusetts’ labor market in 2012, only 37 percent of the state’s workers were trained to the middle-skill level;

• A survey of 800 human resource executives conducted by Accenture in November 2014 found that 70 percent of the respondents from companies with revenues greater than $2 billion indicated their inability to attract and maintain middle-skill employees was having a negative impact on their corporations’ productivity and performance.

It doesn’t have to be that way. As the president/CEO of the largest agency in New England that helps adults with disabilities get the training they need to become eligible to join the workforce in myriad capacities, I know there are a segment of workers who are ready, willing, and able to fill those jobs.

What will it take for the executives who run those corporations and institutions to add those aforementioned individuals with different abilities to their teams?

• A willingness to embrace the concept of “different.” Not every physical or cognitive disability is at the same level.

• There are different degrees of memory, problem-solving, attention, and visual comprehension disabilities. Organizations can help their workers overcome these challenges by embracing those technologies that facilitate change and enhance workplace productivity.

• A hunger to embrace all that defines the word “innovation.” People who are in a wheelchair, or are blind, have to be innovative to succeed in the travails of daily life. (Now imagine having that mindset as a regular part of your company’s daily culture. Consider the possibilities!)

With the gap in middle-skill workers, we should be past the point of not considering someone who has a disability for a position they are qualified to excel in. At WORK Inc., we see the possibilities that exist with our clients who complete our training courses in building maintenance services, culinary arts and administrative services, to name three middle-skill job areas that are experiencing a shortage of workers right now. Our students are hungry to earn a job, get paid for what they do just like anyone else, and become productive members of the communities in which they live.

Why wouldn’t you want to add them to your team?

James Cassetta is the president/CEO of Dorchester-based WORK Inc., the largest agency in New England that provides educational opportunities and job placement services for adults with disabilities.