Is Having the Right Skills Enough to Get Hired in Post-Recession America?

skills gapOne of the most common explanations for the persistent high unemployment in America since the 2007 recession is the skills gap. An Accenture report estimates that, “about a third of employers worldwide are experiencing critical challenges filling positions due to a lack of available talent, and almost three-fourths of employers are affected by talent shortages to some degree”.  Technology and globalization processes have increased the demand for talented and high-skilled workers, and many say that the nation’s education institutions have not risen to meet the challenge effectively.

The Brookings Institute issued a report that includes eleven “new learning skills in the 21st century” that are crucial for our students. These include: simulation, multitasking, and distributed cognition (effectively utilizing tools that enhance mental capacity). Meanwhile, the Center for 21st Century Skills advocates six different skills: information literacy, creativity & innovation, collaboration, problem solving, communication, and responsible citizenship. Proponents of the skills gap view see unemployment as structural, a product of supply falling behind demand in the skilled labor market. A recent Wilson Center publication by Paul Vallas argues that the skills gap “poses a major threat to the United States’ long-term economic competitiveness”. The American education system is falling further behind the performance of other countries, and addressing the “massive achievement gap present within the U.S. between minority and socio-economically disadvantaged students and their more affluent peers” should be a national priority.

However, many disagree with this assessment of a skills gap as the main cause of high US unemployment, and propose a demand-side rebuttal that focuses on the drop in real household wealth associated with the recent recession. This has decreased household demand nationwide and thus crippled job growth. Research done by the Economic Policy Institute  argues that persistent unemployment at all levels of education, and in most major sectors of the economy indicates that the current high rates of unemployment are caused by more than just a skills gap. They also attribute the rise in educated labor as a percentage of the total labor force to the rapid growth in sectors that demand high-skilled labor. Other research  at the Economic Policy Institute points to record corporate profits in the past year, saying that businesses learned during the recession how to make money with lower labor costs, and now don’t need to hire as many people to make higher rates of profit. Some of this can be explained by the fact that traditionally labor intensive industries have been the hardest hit by the recession, while high-tech companies with lower labor demands have seen the most growth.

To create policy that will improve the state of the economy, it is important to understand the causal linkages for the unemployment problem in America. . For example, structural unemployment cannot be solved with demand-side economics such as stimulus packages. On the other side, education initiatives and on the job training is the answer to a skills gap.

Posted by: Ben Copper

Sources: Accenture, Brookings Institute, Economic Policy Institute, CNNMoney, Commerce Department

Photo Credit: flickr user, Dita Margarita


US College Degree Attainment Remains Stagnant as Other Countries Pull Ahead

eduAccording to a December 2012 report by the Center for Public Education, the percentage of young adults in the US who are  college graduates has not significantly changed from the percentage of college graduates aged 55-64. This contrasts with the great gains that have been made in other parts of the world (such as South Korea, Japan, and most of the EU) where the percentage of college graduates is significantly rising each year. For those aged 25-34, the United States  now ranks 14th in the world for the percentage of workers with a college degree. While the United States remains 2nd in the world for 4 year degree attainment, just behind Norway, the main lag is in 2-year degree attainment, where the United States comes in 18th place.

The report shows that students fare better in college if they are well prepared in high school. This is especially true for low-income and low-performing students. According to the Council on Competitiveness, “simply being an American is not an entitlement to a secure, high-wage job” due to competition from emerging markets.  To win the skills race, workers need to attain a higher level of education, and success starts in K-12 programs.

The recent PAGE publication by education reformer, Paul Vallas: “Making a Success of Every School”, points out that it is not underinvestment that is hurting our public schools (out of OECD countries, the United States spends the 2nd most on public education), it is “the inability to invest wisely in the systemic reforms that would remove obstacles impeding the modernization of our educational system to meet new realities.”  Some strategies to improve American K-12 education include: providing greater access to educational technology in classrooms, encouraging partnerships between high schools and local vocational or community colleges, and ensuring the financial predictability that is crucial to long-term planning. The US system must evolve to meet the challenges of the 21st century if its workers are to remain competitive in global markets.

Posted by: Ben Copper

Sources: Center for Public Education, Council on Competitiveness

Photo Credit: Teacher in Classroom courtesy of Flickr user

Making a Success of Every School

The Wilson Center and the Program on America and the Global Economy are proud to share a recently released publication on U.S. education reform:

Paul Vallas, distinguished scholar and noted education reformer, identifies the main challenges facing U.S. education in the 21st century.  He notes that US performance on the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) ranks American 15 year olds as 17th in science and 25th in mathematics.  Vallas and others stress that American schools have not declined.  Rather it is a case of technology, a changing job market, and rising international competition demanding much more of America’s educational system.  Attracting and retaining top teachers is vitally important, but Vallas stresses that one cannot neglect early childhood education, school improvement-focused state and district governance, and a 21st century curriculum.

Click here to access the full report

The Vallas System for comphrensive education reform

Recently, Cambium Learning Group, one of the nation’s leading providers of educational services to students, in conjunction with the Vallas Group, developed an education improvement model to help struggling schools across the nation. The model, the “Vallas Turnaround System,” has become a leading resource for comprehensive and affordable education reform at the state and district level. The model addresses three major areas in school reform: academic rigor, logistics, and affordability. It tackles affordability and sustainability for schools by encouraging them to develop creative ways that they can use their existing budget allocations to reduce costs and maximize resources.

The Vallas plan  also puts an emphasis on the ways students are supported and extends more opportunities to them by redistributing teacher responsibility more equitably to include a better blend of academic and applied learning to help students achieve their goals and meet national standards. The Vallas Turnaround System will also improve the quality of existing teachers and administrators through more effective standardization and professional development techniques that will provide a basis for certification and partnership programs that seek to bring in new teachers.

Paul Vallas, founder of the Vallas Group and distinguished scholar at the Wilson Center, noted that “Through Cambium, we have the platform to more widely offer the Vallas Turnaround System to bring about lasting school improvement that is both approachable and accessible by districts and schools that might not otherwise have the resources.” He emphasized “The Vallas Group is committed to affordable change, so that cost is no longer the deciding factor for schools when it comes to impacting student achievement through the system.” Paul Vallas is the former superintendent of schools in Chicago, Philadelphia, and The Recovery School District in Louisiana. He is now the interim superintendent of Bridgeport Public  Schools in Connecticut.

Posted By: Jonathan Sherman

Sources:, The Vallas Group, Cambium Learning Group

Photo Credit:David Hawxhurst/WilsonCenter

Watch live @ 9am: Charting a Path in U.S. Education Reform

The Program on America and the Global Economy (PAGE) Presents:

Charting a Path in U.S. Education Reform

View the live webcast here

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

9:00 – 11:00 a.m.


 Paul G. Vallas, Superintendent, Bridgeport, Connecticut; Former Superintendent, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Recovery School District (LA); and Distinguished Scholar, Woodrow Wilson Center

 Kenneth Wong, The Walter and Leonore Annenberg Professor in Education Policy, Brown University

 Moderator:  Kent Hughes, Director, Program on America and the Global Economy, Woodrow Wilson Center

You Are Invited and Live Webcast: Charting a Path in U.S. Education Reform

The Program on America and the Global Economy (PAGE) Presents:

Charting a Path in U.S. Education Reform

 Wednesday, May 16, 2012

9:00 – 11:00 a.m.

Joseph and Claire Flom Auditorium, 6th Floor, Woodrow Wilson Center


 Paul G. Vallas, Superintendent, Bridgeport, Connecticut; Former Superintendent, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Recovery School District (LA); and Distinguished Scholar, Woodrow Wilson Center

Kenneth Wong, The Walter and Leonore Annenberg Professor in Education Policy, Brown University


 Kent Hughes, Director, Program on America and the Global Economy, Woodrow Wilson Center


 Even in a tough economy with various financial constraints Paul Vallas highlights the possibility of success without throwing money at new experiments but rather practicing frugality and doing more with less. Vallas will draw lessons from his extensive career of leading education reform in urban America—Chicago, Philadelphia, the Recovery School District, which includes New Orleans and other parts of Louisiana, and currently, Bridgeport, Connecticut.  He will be joined by Dr. Kenneth Wong, a long-time collaborator on education policy.


 Please RSVP acceptances only to

View the live webcast here.


Check out our  event with Paul Vallas in March 2012 and our blog on his work on the Bridgeport schools.

Paul Vallas brings reform to Bridgeport, Connecticut schools

If you follow the education reform discourse in America these days, you have no doubt heard of Paul Vallas. He’s the superintendent known for bringing sweeping changes to school districts in Chicago, Philadelphia, and the Recovery School District in New Orleans. He has also contributed to rebuilding schools in places like Haiti and Chile. His newest endeavor is in Bridgeport, Connecticut, a small, poor city in the midst of a wealthy county whose schools are failing. In Bridgeport, only 10% of tenth graders meet the state’s math and reading standards, which is the lowest student achievement in the state.

Last July, the school board made a risky decision by voting themselves out and asking the state to take the lead on education reform and improvement. The new board hired Paul Vallas as the interim superintendent for the year beginning in January, hoping he could make some progress. Vallas hopes that even if he only stays for a year or two, the signs of success will enable the parents, the mayor and others to sustain momentum. So far Vallas’ plan includes increasing funding with money coming from increased taxes, the government, and grants. With more money Vallas has introduced a 5-year plan that will restructure senior year of high school, split up big schools into smaller ones, standardize the curriculum and give each school more budget autonomy to focus funds where they are most needed.

Vallas hopes to show the rest of the country that “there are models for school improvement that don’t cost $1 million a school.” Even in a tough economy with various financial constraints, like the Bridgeport school district’s $8 million budget shortfall, Vallas plans to illustrate the possibility of success without throwing money at new experiments but rather practicing frugality and doing more with less.

Vallas joined the Program on America and the Global Economy and the Wilson Center at an event in March entitled “Restoring America’s Competitive Edge.” Read more about it here.

Posted by: Devon Thorsell

Source: The Wall Street Journal, The Times-Picayune

Photo credit: David Hawxhurst/WWICS