Publication | ThinkSet, issue 6

The Reason Behind the Skilled Labor Shortage in America

Cesar Maldonado

Fall 2018

A systemic approach can improve the educational supply chain

The shortage of skilled labor has been a persistent drag on the US economy, and a recurring theme in our public sphere, for nearly 30 years. You’ve undoubtedly seen the headlines.

You might have also heard the repetitious arguments and finger-pointing that follow those headlines: businesses blame the lack of qualified candidates, labor economists blame businesses for stagnant wage growth and futurists blame technology for replacing people with machines. And while debates about what’s causing the labor shortage drag on, everyone seems to agree that community colleges should be the cure. As such, we’ve seen a procession of well-intentioned but ultimately limited solutions: be it President Obama’s 2015 plan to support community colleges or the Trump administration’s National Council for the American Worker initiatives.

In my role as chancellor of Houston Community College (HCC), one of the largest community college systems in the country, I think about these issues a lot—and I believe that while we’re pointing fingers and grasping for quick fixes, we’re missing something: a frank acknowledgment that the most fundamental barrier to growing a 21st-century workforce stems from our collective failure to adopt a systemic approach for moving students through the educational supply chain.

Dr. Cesar Maldonado is chancellor of Houston Community College.