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Study Uncovers Skills and Education Necessary in Modern Workforce

U.S. Chamber of Commerce and University of Phoenix study explores disconnect between 3 million available jobs and high unemployment.

September 26, 2011
Related Topics: Trends, Strategy and Management
KEYWORDS economy

New York — Sept. 26

U.S. unemployment hovers at 9 percent, and while 14 million Americans remain unemployed, the U.S. Department of Labor reported there are currently 3 million available jobs. Against this backdrop, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and University of Phoenix announced a new report, “Life in the 21st Century Workforce: A National Perspective,” that paints a picture of the employment landscape and the key dynamics both workers and employers need to consider as they seek to promote excellence in the workplace.

Fifty-three percent of employers say their companies face a significant challenge in recruiting non-managerial employees with the skills, training and education their company needs. The results summarized in the study indicate agreement across both employers and employees that education — including continuing education and advanced degrees — is critical to ensuring workers have the skills necessary to advance in their professions. They also agree that interpersonal skills, collaboration, critical thinking and problem-solving are important to providing the most benefit to employers and the workforce alike.

"There is considerable discussion focused on the skills employees need to succeed in the workplace," said Margaret Spellings, senior adviser to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and former U.S. secretary of education. "However, it's imperative we understand the issue from the inside-out in order to improve the way we prepare our future workforce. The results of ‘Life in the 21st Century Workforce: A National Perspective’ can help inform employers, employees and job seekers seeking to stand out in the increasingly competitive job market."

In today's workplace, the labor force considers work experience (50 percent) to be the most important factor when companies are making hiring decisions, outdistancing people management and communication skills (27 percent). However, when it comes to being promoted, workers are far more likely to consider people management and communication skills (46 percent) as more important than work experience (38 percent).

Among the other key findings of the study:

Heading Back to School

Eight in 10 employers (80 percent) believe education is critical to ensuring workers have the competencies necessary to advance, and 72 percent of the labor pool agrees.

U.S. workers believe going back to school will have a direct impact on their career. The most common reasons for going back to school are to advance their career (89 percent), increase their salary (89 percent) or gain training for a specific job (88 percent).

Moreover, employers believe increasing the number of workers who complete post-secondary education programs and receive a degree or credential will contribute to the success of their company.

Walking the Talk

Forty-six percent of workforce respondents say their company pays all (17 percent) or some portion (29 percent) of tuition. Meanwhile, 50 percent of employers say they have a tuition assistance program.

In addition, 57 percent of employers interviewed offer flexible schedules to accommodate post-secondary education and training.

Choosing a Program for Success

Business leaders place a premium on post-secondary education programs preparing individuals for success in the workplace (56 percent), providing individuals with core academic knowledge and intellectual skills (51 percent) and providing individuals with the workforce skills and knowledge for success in a specific career (50 percent).

Conversely, employees place more weight on program elements that affect their day-to-day life; a flexible schedule is the most important attribute for workers (21 percent), while 16 percent say both cost of tuition and practical learning experiences are the most important.

About the Surveys

The workforce survey findings presented here are part of a multi-audience, multi-location research project sponsored by the University of Phoenix. Telephone interviews were conducted among a random national sampling of 500 workforce members 18-54 years of age during April 6-18. The sampling error for the sample is +/- 4.4 percentage points. Survey interviewing and analysis were completed by APCO Insight, an international opinion research and consulting firm.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce / Civic Enterprises study of employers was conducted Sept. 7-16, 2010, among a random national sample of 450 business leaders at companies with 50 or more employees. Respondents included C-suite level executives, senior vice presidents, officers and vice presidents at companies across sectors. The online survey was designed and conducted by Peter D. Hart Research Associates. The report was commissioned by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Source: University of Phoenix

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