VIDEO: Skills Gap ‘Very Real,’ Former Commerce Secretary Says

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By Chris Opfer

Businesses are having a hard time finding the talent they need for the jobs of today, even as technology is changing the kinds of positions that will be open in the future, former Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker told Bloomberg Law in a recent video interview.

“I’ve probably met with a couple thousand CEOs, while I was at Commerce and subsequently, and everyone talks about the fact that they’re struggling to find the workforce they need,” Pritzker said.

Although the unemployment rate is at the lowest point in more than a decade, Pritzker said businesses are still struggling to find workers with the training and experience they need. She pointed in particular to the cybersecurity industry, where employers say they’re scrambling to locate qualified workers.

Employers, community groups, and government agencies should be working together to identify other jobs likely to be in demand in the coming decades, create programs to give workers the skills required to fill them, and reshape policy to reflect changes in the way people work, Pritzker said. That means not only developing technical know-how, but also the soft skills that workers need to adapt to changes.

“What we do know is that the nature of work is changing,” Pritzker said. “Technological advance probably means all of us are going to have more of a portfolio of work. We need a culture of life-long learning, we need to make sure that benefits are portable and acknowledge the work that people are doing.”

Pritzker started an investment firm in Chicago after leaving former President Barack Obama’s administration in early 2017. The Hyatt Hotels Corp heir is currently involved in future of work programs with the Council on Foreign Relations and the Hamilton Project.

The video is at

Looking to Future

Businesses may be concerned about skill shortages today, but Pritzker said workers are also on edge about where their career paths are headed.

“We have these massive forces of globalization, automation, robots, and artificial intelligence that’s affecting work,” Pritzker said. “People are feeling really insecure and there is real angst about work.”

Local governments and employers should be at the forefront of training workers for the skills needed on the ground in their communities, Pritzker said. The federal government, meanwhile, should be identifying and funding programs that work, including the apprenticeship programs that President Donald Trump’s administration has touted in recent months.

“The Trump administration has called for five million apprenticeships,” Pritzker said, “Let’s not just make that a headline, let’s make that a reality.”

The administration and lawmakers in Congress should also be thinking about how the nature of work is changing, Pritzker said.

That includes by creating a portable benefits system that allows multiple employers to chip in on a pro rata basis and lets workers take those benefits with them when they move from one job to another. Pritzker also said Congress should consider widening assistance for displaced workers beyond an existing program for those who lose their jobs due to overseas competition.

“We need to acknowledge that there are going to be times where there is displacement in work,” she said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Chris Opfer in New York at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Terence Hyland at

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