ACT Report Exposes Hidden Skills Gaps Affecting In-Demand Jobs

Posted July 01, 2013

ACT Report Exposes Hidden Skills Gaps Affecting In-Demand Jobs
Analysis of actual workplace skills provides more accurate measure,
reveals deficits for jobs requiring low and high education levels

IOWA CITY, Iowa—Significant foundational skills gaps exist for many current and potential U.S. workers, according to a new report issued today by ACT, the leader in measuring workplace competency. The report investigates the assumption that individuals with a given level of education have the requisite skills for occupations requiring that level of education.

Based on data collected from approximately 4 million ACT WorkKeys® examinees over a five-year period, the report, “The Condition of Work Readiness in the United States,” finds that skills gaps are most evident for individuals considering jobs on either end of the preparation spectrum—jobs requiring low or high levels of education. In contrast, there is no significant skills gap for individuals preparing for jobs that require middle-level education.

These findings suggest that institutions and programs preparing individuals for middle-education jobs—those requiring at least one but less than four years of formal training beyond high school—are well aligned with the skills those jobs demand, while those preparing individuals for high- and low-education jobs are less aligned with the skills demanded by those jobs. The occupation categories include those that are projected to be in demand, growing and high paying.

“Skills gaps are not limited to students who are headed from high school to college,” said Jon Whitmore, ACT chief executive officer. “Our data show that far too many individuals in the United States are not ready to succeed in jobs that are projected to be in demand over the next decade. If our nation does not make changes in how workplace skills are developed, assessed and documented, it will become increasingly difficult for the United States to compete in the global marketplace.”

The report suggests that caution should be used in considering indirect measures of skills, such as education level attained, as a proxy for actual skills. ACT findings suggest that actual workplace skills that people can demonstrate lead to more accurate results in determining work readiness than relying on education attainment alone. A more holistic view of an individual’s knowledge, skills, attitudes and personal characteristics is recommended when determining occupation fit.

The study compares skills demonstrated by the 4 million examinees with work readiness standards derived from ACT’s job analysis of the tasks and skills requirements needed for occupations across a wide array of industries and occupations.
The report recommends specific measures that can be taken to increase work readiness, including the following:

  • The adoption of strategies within education and workforce development systems to help individuals identify and address skills gaps relative to their career goals.
  • Improved collaboration among educators, employers and industry leaders to develop authentic learning experiences along the continuum from K–12, postsecondary and career education.
  • Improved alignment between education and workforce development efforts at the local, state and regional levels.

“ACT is working to match worker skills and employer needs as part of our commitment to helping individuals achieve education and career success. Just as preparing students for the next level of education is vitally important, preparing individuals for success in the workforce is equally critical,” said Melissa Corrigan, ACT interim head of workforce development.

This report is ACT’s third in a series analyzing the role of skills in today’s job market and the growing importance skill levels play in predicting workplace success. The two previous reports are:

  • A Better Measure of Skills Gaps, which proposes a new approach to defining and measuring skills gaps.
  • Work Readiness Standards and Benchmarks, which defines, for the first time, “work readiness” and articulates a method for determining empirically driven standards and benchmarks for workplace success.

Building on established definitions of college readiness and now work readiness, ACT is preparing to lead a national discussion about the broader meaning and impact of career readiness in the next few months.

All three reports are available for free download here.