Whether Democrat or Republican, liberal or conservative, the economy has remained a key issue for many voters over the past two elections.
With an unemployment rate hovering above 9 percent throughout much of that time, it is perhaps unusual to hear that employers have been in need of more workers.
According to a June analysis by the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 3.8 million job openings by the end of that month, an increase of about 600,000 compared to the same time last year.
Experts and politicians alike believe one of the key reasons so many are still out of work is because many companies are unable to find workers with the necessary skills needed to fill in-demand positions. It is a skills gap that is widening and could significantly impact economic growth looking forward.
According to data from Complete College America, 43 percent of Illinois residents possess an Associate's degree or higher. According to their projections, by 2020, 67 percent of the state's jobs will require some form of specialized training certification or a college degree, leaving a current skills gap of about 24 percent.
In response to the problem, both federal and local governments have called for initiatives to specifically focus on training or re-training job seekers with the skills most sought by employers.
In February, President Barack Obama proposed allocating $8 billion as part of his 2013 fiscal budget toward providing resources to the nation's community colleges for the purpose of training up to 2 million people to acquire job skills that are in high demand.
In the Windy City, programs aiming to address the job skills gap include Chicago Career Tech, which began in 2010 as a partnership with local companies and corporations to help re-train middle-income professionals who had been laid-off or downsized due to the economic downturn.
"We are very interested in what's happening with all of the high-growth areas [in business] in the Chicagoland area, and we monitor very closely to see where there are growth opportunities in jobs," explained CCT President Marie Lynch. "We combine that with the conversations that we have with a number of our business partners, who we hear from directly on where they're seeing skills gaps and what their particular needs are."
Funded by the city and the state, as well as through donations received from community foundations and the private sector, CCT originally began as a six-month training course that entailed classroom instruction, hands-on training with a corporation or non-profit organization along with career development services.
Beginning in October, the program will take on a different shape, ending its own classroom curriculum and focusing more on finding qualified candidates to train directly with participating companies as part of CCT's "Pathways to Employment" program.
"Fifty percent of our folks have had a Bachelor's and Master's degree and fifty percent of them have had a high school and Associate's degree," Lynch said. "So we've really seen the full spectrum of the unemployed."
Qualified candidates for the program must prove they are a legal resident of Chicago, have proof they are unemployed, and be able to pass a criminal background check and drug test.
Training aside, Lynch said CCT offers networking opportunities that give participants a significant advantage over others who conduct their job searches by solely applying for open positions they find through websites.
"I think because there is so much ability to apply for jobs online, it gives the false perception to a job seeker that when they're spending all day online they're increasing their chances because they're applying for so many," Lynch said. "But yet a lot research out there says 80 to 85 percent of the jobs are coming from networking."
Image: Chicago Career Tech