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Chamber News

Mar 15

Filling in the 'Skills Gap' Key to Region's Economic Development


One of the significant challenges addressed at last week’s release of the OECD’s economic study was the fact that the Chicago region faces a skills gap that keeps the unemployment rate up and makes it difficult for businesses to connect with the skilled workers they need to meet their objectives. At Thursday morning’s ManpowerGroup employment outlook event at the Mid-America club, senior executives from Manpower and Right Management examined this very issue and discussed a long-term, strategic view on developing talent in today’s workforce.

Chamber President and CEO Jerry Roper introduced Jeremy Mahan, Manpower’s Metropolitan Sales Executive for the Greater Chicago Region, and Jeff Gerkin, Right Management’s Senior Vice President and General Manager for the Americas-West region, to a room filled with members of Chicago’s business community.

“Your involvement is critical,” Roper told the attendees. “We know that you’re the people that are going to get this done.”

Mahan began by examining recent employment trends in the Chicago area and across the country. His statistics show that unemployment has remained rather steady, but the nation’s workforce is growing. He said 18 percent of U.S. employers expect to add to their workforces, six percent expect to decrease their payrolls, 72 percent anticipate no changes, and four percent are undecided.

“The fact that we’ve seen half a million Americans re-enter the workforce is a positive trend,” Mahan said.

The outlook for the Midwest, and specifically Chicago, was even more encouraging than the national results. It shows that 19% of all employers surveyed forecasted an increase in their staffing levels – up significantly from last quarter at 3%. Job prospects are particularly strong in the following industries: Durable Goods Manufacturing, Wholesale & Retail Trade, Financial Activities, Professional & Business Services, Education & Health Services, and Leisure & Hospitality.

“The Midwest was the strongest region across the United States, which is promising for Chicago and the surrounding area,” Mahan said.

It should also be noted that the survey indicated only 2% of employers are undecided on their staffing plans, down from previous quarters, which indicates that confidence is rising for the future.

One of the conclusions drawn from the findings of the OECD study was that the region needs to boost the productivity of the workforce and act as a unified economic block in order to regain competitiveness. This includes closing the skills gap that leads to thousands of jobs going unfilled.

“149,639 current jobs are open in Chicago,” said Right Management’s Jeff Gerkin. “So why aren’t they all filled? The skills gap.”

Gerkin examined two case studies in which his firm worked with China and Vietnam to solve similar issues and discussed the role the government, private enterprise, education systems, and the individual play in building the talent the market will demand over the next 5 to 10 years.

“The skills gap is a major constraint for economic growth,” Gerkin said. “How do we connect business, government, curriculum, and the individual?”

Manpower’s survey goes a long way in answering these questions and provides strategies for reducing the skills gap and improving economic development in the Chicago and Tri-State region.

Click here to see the results of Manpower’s Employment Outlook Survey.


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