Moving the Employment Line: How State Job Centers May Fuel T-Shaped Skills

Often, the best ideas are so good because they have more than just one application. Take T-shaped training, for example.  The concept of the T-shaped employee is helping companies to maximize the potential of their workers.  Could T-shaped training also help today’s unemployment picture? Some states seem to think so, and are taking steps to include it in their employment programs.

For some time, many of us in high tech management have seen the ways that workers have used T-shaping to flourish in the workplace, and it has helped guide our management decisions about hiring and training. Universities have a mixed record when it comes to preparing tomorrow’s workforce for the Big Data future, but “T-shaping” is increasingly viewed as an educational priority. In my view, the development of T-shaped skills may be equally important for the under and unemployed workers of today.

Despite ourmen-in-bread-line stubbornly high national unemployment rate of over 7 percent, The U.S. Bureau of Labor points to a major problem in finding workers who are skilled in analytics. Even with so many people out of work, there are some 3.7 million unfilled jobs in our economy right now that relate to the new Big Data reality.  And as Baby Boomers retire, the skills gap is likely going to get worse. After all, the average age of the “ideal” high skilled worker is now 56 years of age, according to one estimate.  T-shaped employees are clearly becoming part of  employer expectations.

An industrial employer in Milwaukee described the skills-gap problem his company is facing to a reporter, noting that computer skills were needed to run his mill’s equipment. Out of more than one thousand applications, he found only 25 that had the required computer and data skills. A year later, the employer said, he had laid off or lost 15 of those workers.

If given the chance to hone their T-shaped skills, older unemployed workers may be part of the answer.

T-shaped Skills as a Competitive Advantage for States and Regions

What, if anything, are state unemployment training programs doing to fill the the need for T-shaped workers?  It turns out that most states aren’t doing anything, but there are some exceptions. Both New York State and California have specifically adopted the use of T-shaped training (with a focus on such qualities as emotional intelligence), while several other states are more quietly embracing T-shaped training for unemployed workers.

New York and California have two very different ways of approaching T-shaped employee training. New York relies on a more traditional model, using workshops to teach large groups of potential workers at once, while California uses a unique, one-on-one mentoring approach.

Some of the key beneficiaries of T-shaped training efforts in New York, California and elsewhere have been state community college systems. As a result of a demand for high tech-trained workers, community and technical skills colleges have their highest levels of enrollments since World War II.

It is too early to tell if T-shaped training is effective for all or even most of the people and managers who rely on state employment programs for personnel. The rise in part-time employment is especially pronounced among graduates of state employment programs, and some studies suggest T-shaped training is effective in very specific settings, industries, or usually work best only for full-time work.

However, one thing is for certain: corporations are demanding skilled, T-shaped workers. And if state employment programs are unable to provide them, hirers will look elsewhere, or develop these training programs themselves.



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