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Got skills?

A coming wave of jobs - no, really - will mean 'help wanted' across a range of professions. How American firms and workers can prepare for the ride.

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It's small comfort to people who need a job now, but experts say there's a dramatic labor shortage looming in the United States.

In 10 years, available jobs could outnumber workers by 6.7 million, according to a new analysis by the nonprofit Employment Policy Foundation in Washington. By 2030, the gap could widen to 35 million.

Shortages are already visible in certain occupations - nursing, for example - but across the board, employers could start to feel a pinch in the next few years. Whether they need people with basic literacy and computer skills or a flair for management, they may just find that they're competing for a piece of a shrinking pie.

Some of the explanation is pure demographics. As baby boomers start to transition out of the labor market, even if they work beyond traditional retirement age, there simply aren't as many younger workers to replace them.

The gap is wider when one takes into account the education level needed for the types of jobs being created. There will be 30.7 million job openings for people with at least a two-year college degree in the next 10 years, the EPF estimates. But only 23.3 million people are expected to earn those degrees.

"If the economy really starts to heat up ... companies are going to start scrambling," says Michael Zey, futurist and professor of management at Montclair State University in Mt. Freedom, N.J. "The first thing they'll try to do is get back some workers that they let go, but many of those people have already taken career turns.... Companies are being very shortsighted at this point."

When it comes to bridging the skills gap, some people have become visionary out of necessity. For more than a decade, Holyoke, Mass., has been facing the paradox that could soon land on others' doorsteps: Employers struggle to fill job openings while residents unqualified for the positions sit idle.

The city of 42,000 has hired workers from surrounding towns for professional and manufacturing jobs, partly because of a lack of English proficiency among some of the Latinos who make up nearly half of Holyoke's population.


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