Whether framed as a gap, a shortage or a mismatch, skill problems drive discussions around workforce and education policy today. Employers say they are not getting qualified candidates from educational institutions; unions and workforce advocates say that if employers looked harder and offered increased wages and improved benefits, qualified workers could be found. At the same time, community colleges and vocational training centers say that rapid changes in technology make it cost-prohibitive to buy the latest machines and training tools. Aspiring workers say they are unaware of the resources available to them or unable to navigate an overly bureaucratic system.
Since the 1970s, workforce programs have tried to match educational programs and training opportunities with employers' needs for skilled workers. However, these have been described as a "series of piecemeal attempts to improve services in specific locations, meet some targeted employer needs and remove barriers facing working adults in certain locations who want to pursue education and training." The challenges of streamlining services, addressing local and regional demands and removing barriers to employment are significant. Nevertheless, for the national economy to reach its full potential, the demand for workers must be met by workers with the right skills at the right times.