Bridging the Skill Gap
Posted by Michael D. Haberman
If you read any article or any survey about hiring today, you’ll find there is a skill “gap” between what employers need and what employees offer. In reality, this gap is more like a canyon that is constantly widening. Most business are now in a situation of needing to bridge this canyon in a way that will help employers and employees alike.
How wide is this gap?
The gap between employers’ needs and employees’ skill sets is widening partially because of “erosion.” The pace of technological change is so rapid that companies and educational systems struggle to keep up. And just as people are trained sufficiently in a recent technology, an even newer version appears, and no progress is achieved.
A Manpower survey revealed that 49% of US employers are having difficulty filling critical positions. Another study by CareerBuilders found that 38% of employers cannot find qualified technology candidates, and another 34% are dealing with job vacancies that result in lower quality of work, loss of revenue, and reduced morale. Estimates by McKinsey Worldwide show that by the year 2020 (a mere 4 years away), there may be 20 to 23 million workers in advanced countries without the needed skills desired by employers.
More than technical skills
Lest you think this skill shortage is just about technical proficiencies, employers also report that the problem extends to missing “soft skills” as well. Employers have encountered large shortages in organizational, project management, communication, and leadership skills. These abilities are easily taught out of a textbook and yet are increasingly hard to find.
What’s to blame?
How did we arrive at this situation? There are several factors at work, and we are familiar with most of them. First, the pace of technological growth makes it difficult for educational systems and companies to keep up with the requirements of new systems. Many schools do not have the financial resources to change their systems constantly, which produces students who are being trained to use technology that is three or more years old by the time they graduate.
Those individuals who have acquired the needed skills are finding that possession of technological skill sets makes them a valuable asset to companies. Subsequently, they can demand more than the average employee in both wages and methods of working. Many skilled workers are finding that they don’t need to work for a single employer or even full-time.
In the soft-skills arena, we have an earlier generation trained in leadership and communication who is now retiring, leaving large voids. Companies have not stepped up to provide the training necessary to replace the soft skills lost due to employee attrition.
How can we bridge the gap?
Two actions are necessary to bridge this skill gap. First, companies need to introduce more flexibility into their hiring process. Instead of looking for a specific skill, employers need to look for candidates with the right aptitude to be taught skills and the right attitude to fit the company. Pre-hiring skill assessments can reveal if a candidate has the ability to learn vital technology or soft skills.
Second, companies need to take responsibility for training their employees in the skills needed. A baseball model based on the minor league or farm-team system would work. For example, recent grads could be hired for basic-level roles and given the requisite training in the technology needed. At an early to mid-career level, leadership skills could be developed, and at a later career level, senior players can assist by mentoring and leading others. This system would require ongoing assessments of aptitude and attitude to determine who moves on and when.
Without this commitment of time, effort, and resources, many companies will find themselves losing market position and profits to companies with greater foresight.
Beating the Odds
Hiring employees is only the first step on the way to building a strong and engaged workforce. Employee retention is critical to a successful business, since you cannot achieve your goals without experienced and qualified staff. Retaining the best talent is a real challenge today, and one that requires a complex and careful approach.DOWNLOAD
Michael D. Haberman is Vice-President and co-founder of Omega HR Solutions, Inc., a consulting and services company offering complete Human Resources solutions. As the former founder and President of MDH Consulting, a Human Resources consulting firm, Mike has more than 35 years of experience in Human Resources, and he uses his broad-based background to help companies solve employee problems and deal with governmental compliance.