Minding the skills gap
Monday, 18 November 2019
In a perfect world, business owners would put out the call to fill a position and qualified job seekers would come rushing to fill it.
But the National Middle Skills Coalition, which advocates for policies and training to put people to work, projects that 48 percent of all jobs through 2024 will be considered “middle skills," which require education beyond high school but not a four-year degree.
The gap, the Coalition's report says, comes from the fact that middle-skills jobs account for 53 percent of all jobs today, but only 43 percent of workers have enough training.
And according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, most of today's work force is made up of people who have attended college or earned at least an associate's degree. (Before 2012, the majority of workers had a high school diploma, but no college.)
"We know there is still a skills gap across the nation, and it's particularly felt in the technology and healthcare industries where we see above-average job growth, an indicator that demand for skills desired is outpacing supply," says Scott Dobroski, community expert for Glassdoor.com, a clearinghouse for information on companies.
A study published in MIT Technology Review drilled down on the skills-gap issue and found that part of the issue is that so many different kinds of skills are required for different jobs. Getting everyone up to date on data analysis, for instance, won't solve a problem in customer service or factory work. It's not a one-solution problem.
“In manufacturing, it's higher-level reading, while for help-desk technicians it's higher-level writing. Proponents of the skills-gap theory sometimes assert that the problem, if not a lack of STEM skills, is actually the result of a poor attitude or inadequate soft skills among younger workers," the report says. “But while demand for a few soft skills — like the ability to initiate new tasks without guidance from management — is occasionally predictive of hiring problems, most soft-skill demands, including requirements for cooperation and teamwork, are not."
What businesses can do right now
The MIT research suggests one way to close the gap is for employers to consider increasing wages or being more strategic in how they design worker roles.
“We should be focused on the real challenge of knitting together the supply-and-demand sides of the labor market. Thinking about the real financial and institutional mechanisms necessary to make, say, apprenticeships work is far more productive than perennially sounding alarms about under-skilled workers," the report reads.
Perhaps the most important thing to do is to cultivate the talent you already have. How much do you invest in worker training and succession programs? How many employees can you cross-train? Keeping key positions vacant can be costly in terms of productivity, employee morale, and overtime. An initial investment in training, tuition reimbursement, internships, and apprenticeships may help streamline future transitions.
“For employers, one of the best ways to find workers with sought-after skills is to help your current workforce attain those skills," Dobroski said. “Employers can provide stipends or tuition reimbursement for ongoing education, including specialized training and classes. This does not have to mean a four-year degree program, but it can include anything from online courses to conferences to trade membership organizations where these skills can be attained while retaining your employees too."
Other tactics to help narrow the skills gap include:
- Review your workplace roles. Is there anyone in house that can do the work, but is otherwise assigned? Take, for example, a receptionist who had previous experience in marketing. It can be a more strategic move to slide the receptionist, who is already familiar with the company, into the marketing position and hire a new receptionist.
- Check credentials. Do positions at your company require a degree or certain certifications? For many reasons, including soaring debt and more opportunities to train in other ways, such as coding boot camps, not all college students finish school. Unless there are legal or other requirements in your industry, put the emphasis on skills required rather than a college degree.
- Be competitive.In a tight market where skilled workers can take their pick of jobs, you may have to improve the wages, benefits, and other enticements (such as the ability to work from home or flexible work schedules) to attract quality candidates.
- Communicate your needs. Work with schools, nonprofits, and other organizations to define what your business and industry needs immediately and over the longterm. There may be a pool of potential candidates eager to train and ready to work, but they won't find you unless you communicate what you need.
- Shift your expectations. Do you have rigid needs around full-time, part-time or contract workers? Some of the most qualified applicants may want a different structure than the one you're offering.
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