Paving the Path from Education to Employment

Posted by Brad Smith
General Counsel & Executive Vice President, Legal & Corporate Affairs, Microsoft

This is the second in a series of blog posts by Microsoft executives regarding the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos, Switzerland. Read the first blog post on the Citizenship blog by Lori Harnick, general manager, Citizenship and Public Affairs.

It’s estimated that 600 million jobs worldwide will need to be created over the next decade to make up for jobs lost in the recent economic crisis. Yet, many, many jobs stand open now without skilled workers to fill them. These issues of job creation and the skills gap were top of mind for many people last week at Davos, as I learned from the number of conversations I had with delegates and the many meetings dedicated to these topics.

I had the opportunity to be a panelist in a meeting organized by McKinsey & Company. The session, entitled “The Great Skills Mismatch: Education to Employment,” was moderated by Zanny Minton Beddoes of The Economist. I was joined by Professor Peter Cappelli of the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School; Sir John Peace, chairman of Standard Chartered; and Ursula von der Leyen, federal minister of labor and social affairs, Germany.

Diana Farrell, director of the McKinsey Center for Government, shared the findings from the firm’s recent report on the gap between education and employment. Among the top findings is that the education-to-employment journey is like a highway with three critical intersections (enrolling in post-secondary education, building skills and finding a job) and there are significant challenges at each intersection. Other findings showed that the system is failing most employers and young people, and that new incentives and structures are required to reverse the situation.

Addressing the challenges at each of these intersections, and strengthening the path from education to employment requires a holistic, end-to-end set of collaborative commitments and actions across business, government, educators and NGOs.

To advance this work, the business community needs to be more vocal, concrete and precise about the problem it is facing and offer ideas for potential solutions. Speaking for Microsoft, we have 6,271 open jobs in the U.S., including more than 3,500 open engineering jobs, but there’s an insufficient pipeline of qualified graduates to fill them. We’ve seen a 44 percent increase in open engineering jobs year-over-year. We must do something to meet our near-term job needs, but we also must invest in long-term initiatives so we can prevent this same problem from occurring year after year well into the future.

Therefore, Microsoft is supporting an approach to talent development, jobs, and immigration in the U.S. The approach addresses business needs for skilled workers alongside government and education requirements for investments in people, resources and curriculum. In doing so, it pairs long-term educational investments to improve future opportunities with immediate and progressive immigration policies to address present talent shortages.

In our view, this approach encompasses education, skills training, employment and talent mobility in a way that brings together the needs of citizens with the goals of business and the priorities of educators.  Ultimately, the aim is a mutually-beneficial solution with as few trade-offs as possible.

There are many additional ideas that may be similarly relevant for other countries, businesses and societies. We encourage the exploration of those ideas, and look forward to sharing our insights, outcomes and best practices with others who are working to strengthen the path from education to employment.

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