Solution to Closing Skills Gap May Start in High School

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By Debra Auerbach, CareerBuilder writer

While high school seniors planning to attend college may be thinking mostly short term – gaining independence from their parents, joining a sorority or fraternity, decorating their dorm room – they're also looking ahead to their post-college future.

According to a new survey from CareerBuilder and Economic Modeling Specialists Intl., nearly 3 in 4 high school seniors know what career they want to pursue. STEM-related fields (science, technology, engineering and math) – characteristically some of the hardest positions to fill – top their choices, showing that they may be taking a more active role in bridging the skills gap.

Vacancies up, hires down
Before revealing high school seniors' post-college plans and their impact on the skills gap, it's helpful to first explore where the skills gap is felt the most. This can be understood by examining extended vacancies and job postings versus actual hires.

The survey found that 37 percent of hiring managers have positions that, on average, stay open for 12 weeks or longer, up from 35 percent last year. These extended vacancies are especially apparent in information technology (52 percent), health care (49 percent) and manufacturing (44 percent).

The struggle to fill specialized roles is further illustrated in the below list, which includes some of the hardest-to-fill occupations that tend to be vacant for 12 weeks or longer, the average number of jobs posted per month for these roles, and the number of people who are actually hired to fill these positions. The results show that for software developers, nurses, sales reps and network administrators/IT managers, the skilled labor supply is not keeping up with the demand.

OccupationJobs posted per monthWorkers hired per month
Software developers59,27948,957
Registered nurses124,933103,987
Sales representatives (wholesale, manufacturing, technical and scientific)
19,217

14,988
Network administrators and computer/IT managers47,28133,035

The aging workforce and education gap
The study also looked at post-recession job growth for some of the hardest-to-fill positions, along with the pace of college degree completions for those professions and the percentage of the workforce that is nearing retirement, to get a sense of how quickly talent pools will be replenished for in-demand jobs.

OccupationTotal employment in 2014Growth in jobs 2010-2014Annual job openings 2010-2014Degree completions 2013Percentage of the workforce ages 55+
Bookkeeping, accounting and auditing clerks
1,789,685

111,346, up 7%

43,856

23,625

29%
Machinists410,21959,269, up 17%23,8616,18425%
Industrial machinery mechanics
324,101

43,362, up 15%

19,789

4,375

24%
Petroleum engineers43,0639,964, up 30%3,4981,62325%

High school seniors closing the gap
High school seniors, recognizing the fields with the most potential opportunities, are making decisions about their post-college career plans that may ultimately help to close the talent gap. According to the study, the majority (97 percent) of high school seniors surveyed plan to go to college to obtain a two-year or four-year degree or other training. The most popular majors these students plan to sign up for are largely STEM-related, including engineering, biological and biomedical sciences, computer and information sciences, and math and statistics.

Seventy-three percent of high school seniors say they already know which career they want to pursue. The most popular choices for profession among these students include:

"Education is one of the building blocks of our economy and one of the most important defenses we have against the skills shortage in the U.S.," says Matt Ferguson, CEO of CareerBuilder and co-author of "The Talent Equation." "More companies are promoting STEM-related careers in high schools and grammar schools, and it's encouraging to see students get excited about pursuing these fields."
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