The U.S. Dept. of Labor announced in October that the number of job openings in the U.S. has reached 4.8 million, the highest since January 2001. In addition, a recent report by Manpower, a worldwide staffing company, predicted that the number of jobs in the energy sector, unquestionably one of the nation’s fastest growing industries, would nearly double to about 3 million by 2020.

There is no doubt that this good news – directly or indirectly – stems from our country’s ongoing energy revolution, which continues to generate millions of jobs, increase wealth and prosperity in previously impoverished communities, raise incomes for hardworking American families, stabilize fuel and energy costs, and strengthen U.S. economic competitiveness and security.

However, according to various studies, there continues to be hesitation on whether we have the talent in the pipeline to keep this record-setting renaissance going in the years – and decades – to come.

For instance, despite 5 million job openings, more than 9 million Americans are still out of work, the Dept. of Labor says. How can that be? Blame the skills gap, suggests John McKernan Jr., president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation.

Indeed, more than half of energy employers say they are having great difficulties finding “the talent it needs,” according to the report. Likewise, a concerning 74 percent say the problem will get worse in the next five years.

In essence, far too many job seekers lack the skills and qualifications employers need to fill job vacancies in the energy and manufacturing sectors – and in many others.

This skills gap, the Manpower report warns, could adversely affect our nation’s competitiveness and damage the record-setting job and economic growth we have seen in the energy and manufacturing sectors unless immediate steps are taken by schools nationwide to better educate young Americans in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). The U.S. Department of Commerce echoes those sentiments; it predicts that an estimated 1.2 million jobs would go unfulfilled in STEM fields by 2018 because of a lack of qualified workers.

These troubling studies and forecasts emphasize the importance of Consumer Energy Alliance’s (CEA) annual Energy Day Festival, which this year will take place Saturday, Oct. 18th  from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Sam Houston Park on Bagby St. in downtown Houston. As the nation’s largest energy festival, Energy Day, now in its fourth year, teaches students and their families about the industry’s numerous high-tech, high-paying careers via nearly 70 interactive exhibits and demonstrations that highlight on-going advancements and innovations throughout the American energy sector.

These exhibits, which feature top experts from energy companies nationwide, spark aspiring students’ interest in STEM-related fields of studies by connecting them with research institutions and businesses that are forging the next wave of high-tech technologies and talents that will literally power our nation for generations.

From the moment they walk in, children, parents, teachers, and various local leaders will be welcomed by games and models that explain how energy is created and utilized by Americans every day. They will learn the ins and outs of advanced energy technologies like solar, wind, algae, and biodiesel, plus hear about the best ways to conserve energy. Even better, they will learn about the many developments in our country’s quickly expanding oil and natural gas revitalization.

This free event, which is expected to attract more than 30,000 attendees, is an ideal way to offer students the must-have tools they, and the industry, need to succeed and thrive in an energy sector that, thanks to unprecedented growth, offers challenging but highly rewarding careers. The event will also provide over $15,000 in Academic Awards, via CEA’s yearlong Energy Day Academic Program, to more than 75 students and teachers for their achievements in STEM-related competitions.

So, if you are in or around Houston next Saturday, visit us at Sam Houston Park for an entertaining but educational family experience that will highlight the latest and greatest in an energy sector now bursting at the seams. Come and celebrate all that we have accomplished in the past and, with your children’s help, all that we will accomplish in the future.