There is a big gap between the skills workers have and the skills that employers require, a new national study reveals. But the study also suggests there are misperceptions about education and training that hinder our ability to close that gap.

The new study, sponsored by Corporate Voices for Working Families and Civic Enterprises and entitled “Across the Great Divide,” examines the perspectives of business and college leaders on the state of America’s higher education, the skills gap and what is needed for this country to be competitive in today’s challenging global economy. Two-thirds of job openings in the next decade will require at least some post-secondary education, including programs that are two years or less.

Yet a majority of employers in the U.S. are facing a major challenge recruiting employees with the skills, training and education their companies require.

“It is a significant issue if people are not being trained for the jobs that exist and, perhaps more to the point, the jobs that are evolving, because then our economy and nation are in real trouble,” Taylor Reveley, president of The College of William and Mary, said in the study.

But there are two key misperceptions that are hindering the U.S. from closing the divide between the readiness of the work force and the skills employers are looking for.  We need to recognize the value of short-term degrees and credentials, the study said, and we need to broaden the national focus from college access to the necessity for college completion.

More than half of the business leaders surveyed said their companies face a "very" or "fairly" major challenge in recruiting nonmanagerial employees with the skills, training and education their company needs, despite a soaring unemployment rate and a pool of millions of jobless Americans .

This skills gap was particularly acute for the smaller companies with 250 employees or less that were responsible for more than 50 percent of new jobs created in 2007, according to the study, which was also released in association with the Institute for a Competitive Workforce, U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Peter D. Hart Research Associates.

Two-thirds of small companies said it is difficult to recruit employees with the skills they need, while only a third said it was easy.

The problem is exacerbated, the study said, by a focus on “college ” that too often overlooks two-year associate’s degrees and trade-specific credentials. Most business leaders (98 percent) believe the term “college” means a four-year degree. Just 13 percent also think of a two-year associate’s degree and only 10 percent of respondents said “college” includes career or technical credentials.

“The focus on college too often excludes the demand for those who hold two-year associate degrees and trade-specific credentials,” said Stephen M. Wing, president of Corporate Voices for Working Families. “Despite the conventional wisdom that bachelor's degrees are critical to success, the job market of the future will demand a vast new supply of talented graduates of a diverse range of postsecondary programs, including those that are two years or less. Not recognizing the value of these degrees is hindering our efforts to meet the needs of employers."

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