Beating the skills shortage

UpSkill America aims to train 24 million frontline workers

Beating the skills shortage

Posted by Alice Kwan and Danielle Hawkins on July 14, 2015.

The problem has been well-documented: America faces a serious shortage of skilled workers that threatens the nation’s ability to grow and prosper.1 In April 2015, a White House Summit convened to address the critical need to expand economic opportunity for low-wage workers and develop a more skilled workforce. UpSkill America2 is an employer-led movement to address this issue so that frontline, entry-level jobs can become stepping stones to higher-paying, mid-skill positions.

Why is upskilling so essential? Several reasons.

On a broad national scale, US economic growth is hampered without a sufficient workforce to support it, and talent shortages threaten the country’s competitiveness in the global marketplace. As of January 2015, the United States had 5 million unfilled jobs.3

At the employer level, more than one-third (36 percent) of employers point to a lack of employee skills as the reason for problems in cost, quality, and time.4 Nearly 80 percent of manufacturing executives surveyed say the talent shortage will affect their ability to meet growing customer demand, develop new products, and implement new technologies.5

From the employee perspective, 24 million frontline workers are stuck where they are, with little to no upward career mobility.6 Entrenched at the lower end of the pay scale, they are only half as likely to receive career-relevant education as their high-skilled counterparts.7 This has implications for the nation at large; basic literacy and numeracy skills in US adults have remained stagnant for two decades, and skill levels in our young people lag behind young adults in many other countries.8

These problems, while serious for our country and people, also present great opportunity. American employers need skilled talent, while many of the workers they already employ need to gain skills that will enable them to advance into higher-paying jobs. When employers commit to training and developing frontline workers, everyone—including our country—wins.

In support of UpSkill America and the White House, Deloitte Consulting LLP collaborated with The Aspen Institute to produce a handbook for employers, A Guide to Upskilling America’s Frontline Workers. The handbook provides facts about the talent shortfall, makes the business case for addressing it, and offers tools to help employers, particularly their hiring and workforce development teams, advance the skills and careers of their frontline workers. A maturity model is included to help companies assess their upskilling abilities against leading practices and gain practical insights to incorporate necessary adjustments throughout their organization.

We will be hosting a Dbriefs webcast on this topic—UpSkill America: Helping to strengthen America’s workforce—on July 29, 2015. During the Dbrief, two senior White House representatives will provide an update about UpSkill America’s progress, and two prominent employers will discuss upskilling in action at their organizations. We will also discuss how businesses across the country can participate. Please join us at the session and in supporting this vital workforce imperative.



Alice Kwan is a principal in the New York office of Deloitte Consulting LLP. She has over 23 years of consulting and Human Resources experience advising global organizations in various industries with a focus in Financial Services. She has led clients through large-scale transformations where her areas of expertise include leadership alignment, organizational design, change management, and talent management strategy development and solution implementation.

Danielle Hawkins is a senior manager in the Atlanta office of Deloitte Consulting LLP and focuses on developing change management and talent strategies to drive business goals. She has collaborated with many Fortune 500 and public sector organizations to prepare and equip their leaders to effectively manage and lead through organizational transformation.

1 See, for example, “Help wanted: American manufacturing competitiveness and the looming skills gap
2 http://www.upskillamerica.org
3 http://www.ed.gov/edblogs/ovae/2015/01/27/creating-a-clear-path-to-better-jobs-for-low-skilled-workers-stuck-in-front-line- positions/
4 Mona Mourshed, Diana Farrell, and Dominic Barton, “Education to employment: Designing a system that works,” McKinsey Center for Government (2013).
5 Craig A. Giffi, Ben Dollar, Bharath Gangula, and Michelle Drew Rodriguez, “Help wanted: American manufacturing competitiveness and the looming skills gap. Deloitte Review Issue 16, January 26, 2015.
6 “Time for the US to reskill?” OECD, (2013).
7A Guide to Upskilling America’s Frontline Workers UpSkill America, 2015.
8 Ibid.

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