There is some debate out there about whether the skills gap -- the difference between the number of current and future jobs and the skills prospective workers have -- is real. The Boston Globe recently did a lengthy piece on the question.
I come down on the side that believes the skills gap is not only real but serious. I base my position on the conversations I've had working alongside top CEOs both here in the United States and abroad. I’ve also written about the issue. And what's clear to me is that while economists and pundits may take different sides of this argument, entrepreneurs are the ones who'll end it.
The reason is that being an entrepreneur -- or at least learning to think and act like one -- is important even if there is no skills gap. The skills and mindset that entrepreneurs bring to challenges are both powerful and valuable. If the skills gap is real, those skills will help close it. If the gap isn’t real, entrepreneurial thinking will help millions of us anyway.
“Entrepreneurs understand where they can thrive, and how to create value,” Andy Crestodina told me. Crestodina is the co-founder of the successful web design company Orbit Media. “Being a resourceful problem-solver or an empathetic generator of demand are key to being an entrepreneur," Crestodina said. "Those abilities, coupled with endurance, will make you very successful.”
Norman Kutemperor may be the biggest tech innovator you haven't heard of yet. Before there was an Internet, back in 1987, his company, Scientel IT Corp., saw the "big data" revolution coming and built the systems we now use to store data and sort it. “We saw that increased communication was going to create giant amounts of unpredictable, diverse and previously unworkable data," Kutemperor told me. "No one was going to be ready for it, so we took the risk and started designing systems for what we knew was on the horizon.
“And because of that risk, our new data systems are changing the industry.”
The skills Kutemperor and Crestodina are talking about -- resourcefulness, empathy, endurance, vision and risk-taking -- are core components of entrepreneurial thinking. We call them by other names: creative problem-solving, ability to communicate, persistence, opportunity recognition and risk-taking. But whatever term we use, we recognize how each one is a textbook entrepreneurship skill exhibited by business leaders from Elon Musk to Steve Jobs.
Entrepreneurs recognize these skills because they rely on them and develop them in their businesses. These skills are elemental to business growth and prosperity. But they have far wider application beyond entrepreneurship; they are important for everyone participating in this innovation economy, executives and employees alike.
Most of the business leaders I’ve spoken with about workforce skills have told me the same lessons that I myself learned as a CEO -- which is that it’s these same entrepreneurship abilities that employees often lack. The ability to communicate clearly is one. The ability to make connections is another. Being able to see opportunity before everyone else also helps one manage people or products, whatever the context.
Meanwhile, nearly every economist on the planet agrees there will be more people in the workforce than potential jobs in the next 20 to 30 years. So, with every skill young people can put into their personal toolkits, the better prepared they will be for the future.
And that is why we should insist that everyone have access to learning how to think like an entrepreneur. Right now, at least 224 colleges and universities offer courses or degrees in entrepreneurship. While that is good news, it’s not universal enough. We need to start teaching creativity and persistence as early as grade school -- and to reach every student. Even existing business entrepreneurs should study up. No matter what you do or want to do, learning to think like a successful entrepreneur will help.
In fact, teaching people worldwide to think and act like entrepreneurs will create more jobs through new business creation and innovation, and deliver better skilled workers and managers. Having more jobs -- but also more people able to fill them -- will end the skills gap debate by ending the gap itself -- even if it turns out there never was one.
What argument could there possibly be against teaching workers and citizens the lessons of entrepreneurship? I say that, instead of arguing, let’s just start teaching. Let’s agree that an entrepreneurial solution is a good thing, even if the problem doesn’t exist.