At a time of economic uncertainty and struggle, experts estimate that nearly 6 million jobs remain unfilled in America because of a lack of unskilled workers to do them.
Separate items in the Daily Herald over the Labor Day weekend -- an Op-Ed by Lincolnshire businessman Mark Klein and a news story describing new federal legislation -- point to the two key factors behind this labor shortage. One is the need for targeted resources to train people in the skills needed in various manufacturing and trade fields. The other is a lingering perception that the key to a successful career path is through a four-year college degree.
We're not here to dismiss the value of a four-year college degree or specialized post-graduate work. But it is growing increasingly clear that for many young men and women, a different kind of specialized study can also bring personal and financial rewards.
That recognition is behind substantial creative programs under way at suburban institutions like Harper College, College of DuPage, College of Lake County, Elgin Community College and others, which aim to link prospective employees with specific employers and promote the skills needed in today's technically demanding manufacturing workplace.
It's also behind federal legislation our Madhu Krishnamurthy described that has overwhelmingly won approval in the U.S. House to increase funding to programs like these and to start even earlier by encouraging high schools to direct more technically and mechanically inclined students toward training in skilled trades and manufacturing. The legislation -- co-sponsored by Hoffman Estates Democrat Raja Krishnamurthy and Pennsylvania Republican Glenn Thompson -- gives states and localities more flexibility to direct federal funds into technical training programs and increases by as much 9 percent the amount of federal money spent on them over the next six years.
The bill was overwhelmingly approved in the House and now awaits consideration in the Senate. It's an important approach that deserves the attention of Illinois' Democratic Sens. Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth as well as the full Senate.
"The labor markets are changing so rapidly, you really want the decision-makers to be as close to the labor markets as possible to better meet employer needs," Krishnamoorthi told our editorial board last week. "Any federal funding that's spent on training must be done through some kind of collaboration with employers. This really helps to tackle the skills gap in this country."
It does. Also helping are efforts schools and all of us can undertake to -- as Klein, co-president of Klein Tools in Lincolnshire, wrote Monday -- dispel outmoded notions that discourage people from seeking skilled-trades careers.
With the Labor Day weekend just behind us, it's a good time to emphasize that, as valuable as a four-year college education is, other paths exist that can lead to satisfying. lucrative careers. And, not insignificantly, many of these careers are crying out right now for skilled personnel to take them up.