It's no secret that great job candidates are few and far between these days. Employment is up, unemployment is down, and just like two days before prom, most people are already accounted for. But HR and many employers share another growing concern besides a thinning talent pool. There's a skills shortage, they say, even among people who hold a degree.
Each industry has its own set of talent problems. Many skill shortages that employers talk about are somewhat universal. For example, written communication skills are lacking, especially in younger people just entering the job market for the first time. But some shortages are more specific to the job in question.
To help combat this problem, some employers are taking a new talent strategy. Partnering with colleges and universities on where the skills gap exist can help. So can training in-house once otherwise skilled employees are on board.
The only thing that's not working is hoping for a better tomorrow or that the next job ad will find that the skills gap was an anomaly. It's real and widely documented. For recruiters and HR to build great employee teams, employers need to intervene now and help cultivate the candidates that they need.
Some of the Most Commonly Lacking Skills are Also the Most Important
When employers talk about thin or missing skill sets, they don't usually mean specialty skills. No, the most troublesome gaps are in areas that most job candidates in years and decades past had down to practically a science.
The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) recently prepared a research report on what employers find in the current talent pool. The results are both surprising and disconcerting.
First, there's been a significant increase in the number of HR professionals who say they can't find a good candidate. In 2013, about half of employers participating in the study said good talent was hard to find. In 2016, that number had jumped to nearly 70 percent.
A lack of technical and basic skills combine to make this one of the more challenging times in recent memory to find a great person to fill a job opening. But no matter which industry SHRM studied, the results showed a basic skills gap.
In order of occurrence, these are the top areas where skills deficits lie.
- Basic English writing, including grammar and spelling
- Basic computer skills, including using a mouse, typing, and understanding how to use digital files
- English reading comprehension
- Basic mathematics
- Spanish language
- Foreign languages other than Spanish
Basic English writing and basic computer skills should be a non-issue, but that's not the case. Fewer than half of the HR workers who responded said they didn't notice a skills shortage.
There's an Applied Skills Shortage, as Well
A shaky basic skills foundation doesn't bode well for applied skills. When job applicants have difficulty writing in English or using an ordinary computer, other skills are likely to suffer because of it. That's what SHRM found in their research.
Applied skills ''enable individuals to use their knowledge'' on the job. Where these skills are lacking, it doesn't matter what level of education the job candidate has achieved. Applying what they know will be more challenging than if they had acquired these skills before onboarding.
Here are just a few of the most problematic shortages that SHRM found:
- Critical thinking and problem solving
- Professionalism and work ethic
- Written communication
- Teamwork and collaboration
- Oral communication
- Application of information and communications technology (ICT)
- The pursuit of lifelong learning and self-direction
- Creativity and innovation
- Ethics and social responsibility
A bit worse than the stats on basic skills, only about 16 percent HR professionals say applied skills shortages haven't hit their radar.
You Can Trace the Skills Gap Back to College or Even Earlier
The most likely segment of the population to represent the skills gap probably won't surprise you. It's more often a problem in younger workers, those with less experience in both performing a job and in wielding basic skills to use their knowledge effectively.
Unfortunately, one of the most realistic ways to effect positive change is for employers and HR professionals to intervene early. You might think educating future employees in basic and applied skills isn't in your job description. But with a shrinking pool of talent, someone has to do something. Consider it an investment in your future as much as theirs.
According to Fast Company, employers and HR professionals need to start early if they're to intervene and make a measurable difference in today's and tomorrow's workforce. High school isn't too early, they say.
Recruiting people in their junior year of high school helps them understand what's necessary to get the job they'll one day want. Reading comprehension might seem boring in 11th grade. Without it, they might never be in the running for the job of their dreams. Getting that information in time to do something about it could make all the difference.
Fast Company also says employers also need to think about networking with people in higher education. Bellvue College of Business dean, Rod Hewlett, tells the magazine that he works closely with a business advisory group that lets him know what students should be learning.
These are the most commonly missing skills:
- Problem solving
- Analytical thinking
As a result of their partnership, the college has begun developing more programs to help students develop skills and close the skills gap a little more.
As for internships, they can be much more than free or cheap help for the summer to fill a college credit. A dynamic internship program instructs interns and shows how the skills they're learning relate to the job. It benefits the intern in creating a link of understanding and in building vital skills. It benefits the employer in developing more work-ready people who will soon enter the talent pool.
Cutting Edge Recruitment Technology Helps but Candidates Still Need Training
New methods and strategies in recruiting really can help talent acquisition professionals find the proverbial needle in a haystack. Not every Millennial or member of Gen Z needs help with basic English communication or math. Technology helps you find them.
Using social media helps you connect with more people and gives you real insight into some of the skills that you need. If a Facebook or Twitter user regularly forms well-crafted posts, you can see their communication skills in action. But that's just a start.
Sourcing technology such as Real-Time Job Matching gives you more avenues to make a better match for the job. Resumes only give so much information. Even an interview can't reveal as much about a job candidate as you'd like. Job matching technology can source for fine details that you might not pick up, and then present the job opportunity to the right person at a time when they're most likely to bite.
Another avenue for nicely qualified candidates is the military veteran population. They might have the hard and soft skills but lack the right terminology to describe them the civilian way. Vista Education, a company that specializes in additional training for vets, says military job-specific training has definite value in a civilian job, even when the names are a bit different.
Technology can help you connect your job opening to a vet's skills. So can working with veteran employment organizations to bridge what might be a bit of a communication gap. There's an acronym for everything in the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps.
Moving right along, we come to in-house training. As much as employers might not like the idea, it's becoming a reality for businesses with more jobs to fill. SHRM says bigger companies are embracing training as a way to bridge the gaps. They can hire for hard qualifications, then later train for soft skills. It might seem backward thinking to develop soft skills later, but sometimes any port in a storm will do.
Internal Training Helps Keep More Valuable Employees On Board
The last thing you need in a tough hiring climate is higher churn and even more jobs to fill. Training in-house doesn't just give you better-qualified workers, it keeps workers engaged. Engaged employees are less likely to bend an ear to a recruiter who'd steal them away.
Training also helps you develop more specific skills, particularly leadership, that make existing employees viable options for higher level jobs. Those are more difficult to fill. They're more costly, too. But if the talent is already on the roster, you don't have to look far to find them.
Employee development helps create a much more attractive employment cycle. More active hiring can take place at the less expensive entry level. Even if you don't have a vibrant talent pipeline right now, entry-level jobs are typically easier to fill.
Every day those new hires are in training, you gain a stronger internal talent pool. When a higher level job comes available, you'll have more people to choose from and you'll know which skills they possess because you taught them.
It's hard to imagine in 2017 that skills once taken for granted are starting to wither away. But that's the reality reported by employers and HR professionals across the country. Communication skills are down. So is mathematics. Presumably because of the advent of mobile devices that do everything, many young job seekers aren't even comfortable using a desktop computer.
Those are all serious problems for both HR and young people who need work.
The workarounds make perfect sense. Partnering with high schools and colleges lets them understand firsthand how to better prepare students for the workforce. Internships help young people see why learning and honing those dwindling skills makes a difference on the job. Targeting vets with your sourcing strategies can open up a world of talent that you didn't know was there, all because you spoke a slightly different language with regard to skills.
Training on the job lets you become the architect of the workforce that you want. It's a different talent acquisition world. Thinking differently about finding talent can put you leaps ahead of your competition.