The Importance of a Skills-First Approach: Talent 2020 & Beyond

Every two years, the Chamber partners with the Charleston Regional Development Alliance to conduct a talent demand study – traditionally, this study shows us the fastest-growing and most in-demand occupation clusters and assesses the gaps that need to be met to fill employers’ needs. From that information, the study helps create a blueprint for ways that K-12, higher education institutions and employers can prepare our local workforce.

At the start of this year, our region was experiencing record low unemployment rates and we began shifting our focus to skills, rather than job titles. We knew that because the talent pool was limited, this shift would open up job seekers in other industries as potential candidates. With a little extra training or credentialing, skills can be transitioned from one industry or occupation to another.

Then March hit. As a result of the ongoing pandemic, the Charleston region experienced a drastic swing from record low to record high unemployment to the tune of a 1600% rise in unemployment claims in just one month. As you may have guessed, this brought a whole new challenge – how to get people back to work and advance economic recovery.

Luckily, the skills-first approach that we started shifting toward at the beginning of the year stayed the same. Enter: Talent 2020 & Beyond, a report based on real-time data that is focused on a skills-first approach to meeting the Charleston region’s workforce needs.

An important feature of the report is that it aims to create a standardized language to describe skills. One of the problems with focusing on occupations rather than skills is that there is a myriad of occupations that use different titles for the same kind of occupations, making it difficult to identify what is needed to be successful. Using the same language to refer to skills will streamline the data and make it easier for everyone, whether you’re an employer, job seeker or educator.

Transitioning to a skills-first approach will help our:

  • Employers connect with job seekers to fill positions
  • Educators prepare the emerging workforce for in-demand jobs
  • Displaced workforce transition to different industries
  • Marginalized communities have opportunities for upward mobility

In a recent webinar, Tina Wirth, Chamber Senior VP of Talent Advancement, and Jacki Renegar, Director of the Center for Business research, went in depth on the recent workforce data and the findings of the report. Hear their discussion here.

Key Takeaways:

  • With a little extra training or credentialing, skills can be transitioned from one industry or occupation to another. Employers, job seekers and educators alike should focus on both the nine foundational skills that are in demand across all sectors and all occupations and the top five most in-demand skill sets for the individual employment sectors.
  • We need to carry forth programming with intentionality towards equity.
  • We need to do what we can to help the displaced workforce: with a skills-first language, employers that are clamoring for talent can connect with those looking for employment.
  • Advocate for employer engagement: opportunities for internships, summer employment and apprenticeships are crucial for developing the skills that help with career advancement.
  • There are wonderful opportunities for innovation and imagination in how we view the workforce and workforce development.
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