This post is the fourth of a four-part response by Corporate Voices for Working Families to the recent NPR series, “The Skills Gap: Holding Back the Labor Market,” which explores unemployment in America, the ill-prepared workforce and the critical need for  workforce readiness training.

As we head into the holiday season, 15 million Americans across the country are still struggling to find jobs and the nation is seemingly stuck with a 9.6 percent unemployment rate. Many may know these statistics well, however in a recent segment on NPR’s Morning Edition titled “Life on the Sidelines: The Long Term Unemployed,” John Ydsti explored the lesser-known problem of long-term unemployment, how that impacts the human capital of our workforce and what that means for future economic growth.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 6 million Americans– over 40 percent of those unemployed– have been out of work for six months or longer.  Defined as the “long term unemployed,” these Americans risk losing valuable skills and human capital as they remain out of work on the sidelines of the labor market, or as they accept lower-skilled jobs.

From the article:

“The wasted human capital is just tremendous,” says Jacob Kirkegaard, a research fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics. “Once people become unemployed for long periods of time, you start seeing a serious depreciation or reduction in their skill levels — in the human capital that they carry.”

This depreciation and loss of skills can be a drag on overall economic growth and can also harm prospects for future growth. It is this concern that motivates those who call for more investment in community colleges and workforce training programs to protect our nation’s human capital and to ensure long-term economic growth.

From the article:

“If there’s one thing where it is sensible for the government to have a bigger deficit in the short term in order to avoid long-term lower economic growth, it is in combating long-term unemployment,” Kirkegaard says.

Corporate Voices for Working Families believes that as we invest in community colleges, we would do well to recognize the critical role the business community plays, in partnership with community colleges, to build the skills and human capital of the workforce. Our recently published report, “From an Ill-Prepared to a Well-Prepared Workforce: The Shared Imperatives for Employers and Community Colleges to Collaborate,” highlights examples of these innovative partnerships and discusses how they are needed to ensure our nation’s economic competitiveness.

“Learn and Earn” examples from the paper include Verizon Wireless’ partnership with Pima Community College and AOL’s partnership with Year Up. Additional examples and micro business case studies featuring CVS Caremark, Expeditors and Northrop Grumman are available on Corporate Voices’ website.

These partnerships focus on empowering young people to combine work with school so they can complete their postsecondary education, but they can also help older, displaced workers upgrade their skills to pursue new careers. Partnerships like these to promote workforce training are and will become increasingly necessary to combat long-term unemployment and to ensure our future economic prosperity.

Through its workforce readiness work, Corporate Voices will continue to highlight the role of the business community in building the skills of our workforce and to educate policymakers on the challenges and opportunities that exist to improve the lives of working families.