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US economy faces impending skills gap

Economists, demographers and political leaders are increasingly concerned that the next generation of workers won’t be ready to fill millions of new jobs across the country.

The combination of a generational sea change in the workforce and a technological revolution in the economy is conspiring to create a skills gap that could leave jobs unfilled, experts say.

And that could stifle growth while exacerbating an already wide gap in the new economy between thriving and struggling communities.

About 108 million workers hold jobs that require moderate or high digital knowledge, according to a Brookings Institution report published in December, and jobs are increasingly likely to require higher levels of technical knowledge.

“There’s this broad need for more digital experience, whether it be a full-time high-end IT worker or to simply carry on in the rest of the economy,” said Mark Muro, director of policy at the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program and a co-author of the 2017 report.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates the economy will need as many as 100,000 new information technology workers per year over the next decade. Right now, only about 60,000 of these workers enter the workforce each year.

Retiring baby boomers are exacerbating the problem.

The Pew Research Center estimates that as many as 10,000 Boomers reach retirement age every day, leaving behind jobs that require more technical knowledge.

Retirements and new growth mean 3.5 million new manufacturing jobs will need to be filled by 2025, said Carolyn Lee, executive director of The Manufacturing Institute at the National Association of Manufacturers. If present trends hold, as many as 2 million of those jobs are expected to go unfilled.

“We are definitely not producing enough workers to fill those jobs,” Lee said.

Companies determining where to base certain operations are looking at what schools are offering.

As part of a 2013 deal to keep tens of thousands of jobs in the Puget Sound area, Boeing secured a commitment from the state of Washington to bolster science, technology, engineering and mathematics curriculum in public schools.

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