FORTUNE -- Baroness Shriti Vadera, a former U.K. cabinet office minister, delivered some sober news on Wednesday: The United States is one of two or three countries where older people have higher level skills than younger people.
And there was more: "We might be the only generation to not bequeath a better life to the next one," she said.
Speaking at Fortune's Most Powerful Women Summit in Washington, D.C., Vadera, who was an economic adviser to former U.K. Prime Minister Gordon Brown, hit on the issue of the skills gap -- the mismatch between what background and expertise employers need from employees and the skills that job candidates possess.
The skills gap is considered a hurdle in the U.S.'s efforts to fully recover from its most recent recession. The Bureau of Labor Statistics has reported that despite the fact that 12 million Americans are currently looking for work, U.S. companies have nearly 4 million open jobs. Last year, for instance, Microsoft (MSFT) announced that it was having trouble filling its 6,000 open positions because it couldn't find job candidates in the U.S. with adequate qualifications.
According to Vadera, the skills gap spells trouble America's future ability to compete in the global market. It's also bad news for the country's long-term prosperity since people not "living up to their potential' permanently puts "a depression on the economy," she said.
Vadera shared the stage at the summit with Joyce Russell, president of Adecco Staffing U.S., who advocated for companies' use of flexible workers, the kind who are employed by staffing firms like Adecco, which loans workers to its client companies. Russell argued that such arrangements allow companies and workers to try each other on for size and often lead to full-time employment.
Vadera argued that the use of such flexible workers contributes to the growing skills gap. If a company employs temporary workers, it's not going to put resources towards advancing their skills. "Why would you invest in [employees'] skills if they're just going to leave?" she asked.
Corporations' investment in worker skills is crucial, Vadera said, since "you can't expect the public sector" to address workforce training needs on its own.
Scott Gerber is leading a movement to promote entrepreneurship to address youth unemployment. But is one man's enthusiasm enough to keep such a campaign together? By Colleen LeaheyMar 6, 2012 12:25 PM ET
The Khan Academy founder discusses the flaws of the U.S. university system, college affordability, and what he's looking for in a job candidate. Interview by Scott OlsterFeb 8, 2012 11:06 AM ET
They sure sound lovely, but prospective MBAs should not view the school-reported salary averages as a guarantee of a sweet paycheck come graduation day. By Anne VanderMeySep 13, 2011 11:25 AM ET
A new book identifies 100 fields where demand for highly skilled workers is on the rise -- no bachelor's degree required. By Anne FisherSep 7, 2011 1:38 PM ET
The Department of Defense and other federal agencies are facing funding cuts while a significant percentage of their workforce nears retirement age. And several signs suggest that they are unprepared for what's waiting in the wings. By Shelley DuBoisJul 22, 2011 11:21 AM ET
|Homeless college students seek shelter during breaks|
|GM names Mary Barra as new CEO|
|Don't fight it. Bitcoin has a bright future|
|Snowden docs had NYTimes exec fearing for his life|
|America's economic mobility myth|