Quora Question: How Competitive is America's Workforce?

Construction workers
Construction workers continue to build the Crossrail underground line at Paddington Station, London, November 16, 2016. Lower paid men were found to be working part time more frequently than 20 years ago. Dan Kitwood/Getty

Quora Questions are part of a partnership between Newsweek and Quora, through which we'll be posting relevant and interesting answers from Quora contributors throughout the week. Read more about the partnership here.

Answer from Eric Duffy, CEO of Pathgather:

The key to workforce strength is agility—how quickly and efficiently workers can update their skills. Technology is changing how the workplace functions, and the speed of change is only going to increase in the coming years, moving much faster than the world is accustomed to.

So when it comes to competition, the countries equipping citizens to be faster learners will do better.

Newsweek subscription offers >

On this front, the United States is not doing particularly well. The World Talent Report by the IMD World Competitiveness Center found that nine European countries and Hong Kong are leading the way in workplace talent, which includes development through education, apprenticeships and employee training. The United States ranked 14th.

So there's room and incentive for improvement. The good news is that we know what it takes to build the agile workforce of the future: engaging employees through pragmatic learning and development initiatives.

Less than a third of U.S. workers currently feel engaged by their jobs, Gallup found. One of the biggest reasons is lack of opportunities to learn. This is especially true of millennials, the largest group in the American workforce. Although development is one of the most important things they look for in a job, "only 39% strongly agree that they learned something new in the past 30 days that they can use to do their jobs better," and less than half "strongly agree that they have had opportunities to learn and grow in the past year."

Businesses best equipped for the future are turning this around. They're giving their employees time to learn new skills that will help them advance their careers. And they're using new technologies to make that learning accessible.

Newsweek subscription offers >

To measure how well things are progressing, I keep an eye on the skills gap. What skills are businesses looking for, and to what extent is the U.S. workforce currently satisfying that demand?

Right now, the gap is big. McKinsey reports: "Almost 40 percent of American employers say they cannot find people with the skills they need, even for entry-level jobs. Almost 60 percent complain of lack of preparation, even for entry-level jobs." This gap "has dire consequences, including economic underperformance, social unrest, and individual despair."

But executives are showing increased focus on bridging that gap. They're coming to understand that the solution isn't just to look far and wide for talent to bring in. It's also to build up the marketplace for skills inside their own companies.

The amount of money businesses are spending on learning and development initiatives is edging up. Now employers need to make sure they're giving employees adequate time to take advantage of those initiatives.

There's also another important factor at play, which speaks to current politics. One place in which the United States has continued to do well is in attracting talent from other countries to come work here. The IMD World Competitiveness Center found that in 2016, the United States still ranked second in appeal, defined as "the ability of the country to tap into the overseas talent pool." Many talented workers attracted to the United States end up staying, becoming part of the U.S. workforce.

But under the Trump administration, it's not clear that will continue to be the case. Look at the issues we've had surrounding not just immigration, but also people with visas to come work here, even in highly skilled positions. If the United States loses its ranking as hospitable to those with talents our businesses need, it will lose one of its remaining strengths in this sphere—creating an even larger skills gap.

How competitive is America's Future Workforce? originally appeared on Quora - the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world. You can follow Quora on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+. More questions:

Quora Question: How Competitive is America's Workforce? | Opinion