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The best way to help companies find workers with the right skills? Apprenticeships, a new report says

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For years, American employers have complained that there aren't enough workers with the skills they need. At the same time, researchers have argued that employers should invest in workforce training to meet their needs.

Now, a new report brings attention to a possible way to solve tech-skills gaps.

On Thursday, professional services firm Accenture released a study titled "Apprenticeships: Building Pathways from Community College to Promising Tech Career," which makes the case that community college students and apprenticeships can help solve tech-skills gaps.

"The United States job market is failing both employers and workers. While positions are plentiful in industries shaped by technological innovation and other dynamics, many potential workers don't have the skills companies require, and employers can't find the people they need," read the report. "But there's a potential solution: Community college students, if given broader access to professional apprenticeship programs, would be able to develop the skills, experience and confidence to meet employer expectations, thereby closing the gap in our job market."

People enter an Accenture office in downtown Helsinki, Finland.
Jussi Nukari | AFP | Getty Images

For the report, Accenture surveyed 1,000 community college students and 200 community college counselors.

Nearly 60% of students said they want to pursue in-demand tech professions, such as becoming app developers, programmers and cybersecurity analysts. But 80% of these respondents said they will need additional training after their community college degree, and 42% said they don't know how to break into the jobs they want.

"There's over 7 million job openings and 5.8 million available workers. Why is that gap not 1.2 million? First of all, there's not enough people to fill those 7 million jobs, but also people don't necessarily have the right skills," Pallavi Verma, senior managing director at Accenture, told CNBC Make It, citing recent figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. "In any business where talent is your primary commodity, you have to take control of the talent that you have and take responsibility for the skilling that they have," she explained.

Accenture launched its own apprenticeship program in 2016.

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Verma said her team's apprenticeship program serves both a moral and business imperative, allowing the company to hire and develop motivated, loyal and diverse talent.

Accenture isn't the only organization that has highlighted the potential benefits of apprenticeships. The U.S. Department of Labor has invested millions in expanding apprenticeships, including states' increasing funding for technical assistance, giving tax credits to employers and investing in career and technical training to prepare students for apprenticeships.

For now, Verma said the challenge is increasing awareness around apprenticeship programs.

According to Accenture's report, just 8% of community college students have participated in an apprenticeship program. Among all respondents, 58% said they are not aware of apprenticeship programs. Nearly two-thirds of women (63%) and 53% of ethnic minorities reported not knowing about apprenticeship opportunities.

"The opportunity is really great, and the more that we can talk about it and have business leaders embrace it, I think that the better off we'll be as a country," Verma said.

Correction: This report was updated to correct the number of counselors interviewed and number of women who reported not knowing about apprenticeship opportunities.

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