Staffing centers criticize schools for not addressing skills gap

A professional recruiting company says the nation’s public schools aren’t giving students the opportunity to learn skilled vocational trades.

As unemployment hits record lows and the nation’s pool of workers to be hired thins, Express Employment Professionals’ franchise owners say local high schools are graduating kids who lack many of the skills that employers are having the greatest difficulty finding – specifically, high-skilled jobs in trades.

Terri Greeno owns a number of Express franchises in northern Illinois. She says schools are so geared toward college enrollment that technically talented students often miss out.

“They don’t even have the chance to discover that and develop that and hone that,” she said.

A recent survey from the National Federation of Independent Business showed 90 percent of their small business members polled reported few, if any, qualified applicants applying for job openings.

Greeno thinks schools should work closer with local businesses like theirs who are willing to train students, often free of charge.

“This is really the free-market response,” she said. “No one’s compelling these companies to do it. It’s just smart business.”

Part of the problem, Express owners say, is the disconnect between what’s being taught in the classroom and what skills are needed from the workforce.

“We need better partnerships with schools and businesses,” said Birmingham, Alabama, franchise owner Daniel Morgan, adding that in-demand skills are “not taught because school has become all about test results.”

Grand Rapids, Michigan, franchise owner Janis Petrini said businesses should work to train the workforce they require.

“Students need to become exposed to actual career options that have potential earlier on,” she said.

Illinois has 24 career and vocational skill centers across the state that high school students can attend for credit, but Greeno says students would be better-served if they could attend their choice of specialized schools with public assistance.

“If there was more of a free-market education program where people could send their kids to schools that specialize in the subjects and studies that are appropriate for their children, it would be a great way to handle it,” she said.

The Illinois Career and Technical Education Innovative Curriculum Resources Project is run by Illinois State University and works with the state’s career centers in an effort to close the skills gap Greeno refers to.