The other day I had the pleasure of interviewing Ed Gordon, a futurist
specializing in career and technical education. Author of the “Winning
the Global Talent Showdown” (Berrett-Koehler, 2009), Gordon is currently
working on two thought-provoking ebooks, “The Talent Hunters” and “The
Job Hunters,” both expected later in 2012.
“The Talent Hunters” deals with the myth that the U.S. does not have to
worry about talent. In the past, we brought talent in or built factories
in Germany, India or China. The truth is there are workforce shortages
in the U.S. and in many other countries.
Previously, people from China and India who came to the U.S. for an
advanced degree stayed on to accept positions here. Now, they are
returning home due to attractive business opportunities in their native
According to Gordon’s analysis of data from The Conference Board, U.S.
Bureau of Labor Statistics and Society for Human Resources Management,
in the U.S. alone, there are 5 million vacant jobs, including a million
jobs that employers have given up on filling either because they
sought too specialized skills or because they were unwilling to pay for
Most of the vacant positions are in the STEM (Science, Technology,
Engineering and Math) areas and at least half require good literacy and
numeracy skills clearly a problem in the U.S. and elsewhere. Most of
these positions also require the candidates to have completed
certificate or apprenticeship programs or to have had advanced
on-the-job training. We will need huge numbers of workers to replace the
many reluctantly retiring Baby Boomers.
The problem, according to Gordon is we are caught between two periods:
“The Information Age” and “The Cyber-Mental Age.” Prior to the
Cyber-Mental Age (2010), we had a large percentage of jobs that required
only minimal literacy and numeracy. Now, more than 50 percent of the
jobs require high levels of literacy and numeracy, plus critical
thinking, communications and computer skills. Only about 27 percent of
the U.S. workforce has these abilities.
For years in the U.S. and elsewhere, education has not kept pace with
the skills needed for today’s jobs and careers. On top of that, for
years companies devalued internal training. They did not realize the
long-term cost. Now companies are reconstituting their training
departments and beginning to “grow their own” people with specialized
Enter now, what Gordon calls Regional Talent Innovation Networks
(RETAINs). These collaborative partnerships of businesses, educators and
other groups in the community are creating new career and employment
preparation systems that are responsive to local economic needs. Across
the U.S. more than 1,000 RETAINs are now in existence and helping to
provide successful jobs pipelines to speed up the transition to the new
It will take many years for the ReTAINs to become effective, so that
they provide successful pipelines. It is no wonder that China had more
nanotech patents than the U.S. most of last year.