We learned today that the U.S. economy gained 155,000 jobs last month. The unemployment rate remains historically low.
But there’s another statistic I continue seeing in the coverage of the U.S. Department of Labor’s monthly report:
Job openings are near historic highs.
As I think about why, something New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy said Wednesday at our Princeton R&D lab really resonated with me.
The Governor joined an event Siemens organized with business, university and government leaders to discuss artificial intelligence (AI) and autonomous systems. During our panel, he shared his vision for innovation, referring to the Garden State as “Silicon Valley before there was a Silicon Valley.”
The Governor then added: “While [New Jersey has] the highest concentration of scientists and engineers literally in the world … I’m worried about the middle-skill positions.”
I am too.
Middle-skill positions are well-paying technical roles that combine hands-on and digital skillsets in fields such as manufacturing, energy, healthcare and information technology (IT) that can be attained by pursuing technical education beyond high school – at a community college, for instance.
And the Governor’s point was two-fold. Middle-skill positions are among the jobs that employers are struggling to fill. But additionally, middle-skill professionals, as much as software programmers and data scientists, are integral to the development of a highly innovative digital economy.
In an economy embracing software, AI and machine learning, though, won’t writing algorithms soon be the only job left?
That won’t be the case at all. The need for middle-skill positions is actually multiplying.
Take manufacturing. At a time when plant managers are connecting machines to the Internet of Things – when many worry that robots, not humans, are the future of the factory floor – the National Association of Manufacturers reports the existence of nearly half-a-million open manufacturing jobs.
Manufacturing isn’t being replaced, isolated or made obsolete by the digital economy; it’s now being brought into the fold, evolving into one of the most exciting places to work in a software-driven society.
So why are there so many open jobs?
There are no clear answers nor easy economic explanations. But I think at least one reason is that employers aren’t typically hiring for the old economy; they’re hiring for the new, evolving economy – one our education and training systems are still trying to catch up to.
Some jobs - middle-skill positions, in particular - are evolving to be more digital. Others are new digital positions that have never existed before.
And we see this in the more than 1,500 open positions in Siemens across the United States. Our company’s evolution into a top-10 global software company has led to steady growth in digital roles –including software and systems engineers, software developers, research scientists, and cyber security engineers.
To attract talent and train manufacturing workers with strong STEM skills, Siemens expanded its manufacturing apprenticeship program to nine states.
Now we’re embarking on the next phase of our training and recruiting efforts where we’re looking for people with backgrounds in computer science, data analytics and engineering.
This year Siemens saw a 29 percent increase in U.S. digital positions compared to last year. Business drivers such as machine learning, artificial intelligence and automation all continue to drive demand for new positions. Experience with cloud solutions has become more in-demand than experience with traditional engineering.
Our R&D division needs research scientists ready to explore robotics.
Our Digital Factory division is looking for talent in artificial intelligence and autonomous systems.
Another business that serves manufacturers, Process Industries and Drives, now needs systems engineers, Java developers and people ready to work on machine learning, data mining and statistical modeling.
Our Building Technologies business, since acquiring an Internet of Things solutions company called Enlighted, has started recruiting sales executives well versed in the next generation of digital services.
So our business does indeed require the full range of digital and middle-skill talent. And the number of open jobs today shows us that, while unemployment is low, the national skills gap – a topic now for many years – has not abated.
Employers like us – who know firsthand which skills are in high demand – must take a much more aggressive approach to building the workforce we need. From software programmers, to welders. From data scientists, to machinists and service technicians. From engineering students learning software, to talent coming out of coding bootcamps, out of apprenticeships, and out of career technical education.
What I imagine is a new wave of workers – from people out of schools and training programs; to parents who dipped in and out of the workforce to raise children; to workers switching careers or reinventing themselves – having the opportunity to learn from and collaborate with longtime employees in possession of deep industry domain knowledge.
What I imagine is cultivating talent, pursuing diversity to reach more people, and focusing intensely on continuing education.
And what I’m excited about, too, is to continue building new partnerships to develop and recruit talent.
I look forward to working with leaders in government to forge the right education and training policies. I look forward to working with educators determined to open the pathway to middle-skill positions – and what I call our digital jobs of the future – as wide as possible.
Let’s see the open jobs today not as an economic statistic. Let’s see them instead as a call to action to build an innovative, digital 21st century workforce, and as an opportunity to strengthen our companies and our communities.