Is the growing skills gap a self-inflicted wound?

There is no cut-and-dry answer to this question, but it is a topic that demands exploration. Open your web browser, search “skills gap” via Google, and you will find yourself lost in a sea of research emphasizing the lack of qualified candidates (50.5 million results, to be exact). But what if the candidates are available; what if the problem is lack of talent investment? What if the bridge between supply and demand was you?

Research suggests there is indeed a shortage of critical skills, however. 51% of 2,201 surveyed hiring managers and HR professionals report having open positions for which they cannot find qualified candidates. Worse, 40% of companies say these positions remain open for six months or longer. These numbers certainly paint the picture of a widening skills gap; a fault of the talent—the unprepared, entry-level college graduate, behind-the-times educational system, and the passive candidate unwilling to consider different opportunities—not the employer.

It’s impossible to draw a distinct conclusion. One side argues the diminishing availability of qualified skills, experience and qualifications. The other, perhaps ineffective recruitment, focusing too strongly on hard skills as opposed to soft, or employers’ lack of understanding surrounding the talent they need (leading to illogical talent demands).

For a deeper look, this week’s Talent Acquisition Fast Facts:

At the end of 2013, the jobless rate was 7%—the lowest it’s been in five years; however, according to a survey of 195 U.S. employers, 45% say “attracting the right talent” is one of the biggest challenges to growing their businesses.

  • 26% of these organizations report the “skills shortage” is the number one barrier to their plans for growth.

A recent study conducted by McKinsey shows 72% of educational or academic institutions believe graduates are prepared for the workplace; however, only 42% of employers believe entry-level professionals are equipped to enter the workforce.

There are a couple of issues, here. The first, many institutions haven’t updated their curriculums to reflect the fast-paced, ever-evolving job market of today. Skills needed just 5-10 years are now be obsolete, thus igniting a skills gap. However, some of the onus may be on the employer—specifically, their need to be flexible in regards to training and taking the initiative to develop their current and prospective workforce. Do you agree?

In Manpower’s latest Talent Shortage Survey, U.S. employers were asked to report the top three reasons they’re having difficulty filling jobs:

1.) Lack of applicants (55% of respondents cited this challenge).

2.) Professionals are looking for more pay that employer is offering (54%).

3.) Lack of experience (44%).

Of these three challenges, only one (lack of experience) appears to be indicative of a skills shortage. Do you believe a lack of applicants hints at an issue with recruiting or perhaps employer brand? What about compensation?

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Also according to the Manpower data, respondents say the most important shortfall they see in candidates—causing their reported skills gap—is “a lack of experience doing similar jobs.”

  • I.e., Employers want experienced candidates and not entry-level applicants freshly out of college/other higher education.

Can organizations be sure they’ll find someone who’s done the exact same job before, especially in a job market with ever-evolving demands for certain skills, qualifications and experience?

According to TIME, when employers were “pressed for more evidence” on their supposed skills gap, 10% admitted their main challenge was candidates refusing to accept positions at the wage level being offered—and had nothing to do with a lack of qualified talent.

Does this indicate a skills shortage, or simply employers’ unwillingness to pay the “going price” of today’s top talent?

According to CareerBuilder’s 2014 U.S. Job Forecast, more companies are connecting with future generations of workers to cut into skill shortages and establish a healthy pipeline of qualified candidates; for example, 27% of surveyed hiring managers have promoted career opportunities at their organizations to high school students (in some cases, even younger) in the past year.

According to the same CareerBuilder study, companies are attempting to build the perfect employee as opposed to waiting for them to show up; as an example, 49% of employers plan to train professionals who don’t have “experience in their industry or field and hire them in 2014”—a number that has increased by 10% since the beginning of 2013.

  • Further, 26% of employers are sending current employees back to school to obtain advanced degrees—paying for all or part of tuition fees.

According to Accenture’s 2013 Skills and Employment Trends Survey, which conducted 400 phone interviews with executives and hiring managers, 46% of U.S. executives at large companies believe a skills gap persists in their industry.

  • In response, 51% of companies plan to increase investment in workforce training during the next two years.

The majority of executives surveyed in Accenture’s study believe their organizations will “pay the price” for having not invested in “the training and development” of talent much sooner—specifically, 66% anticipate a loss of business to competitors as a result, and 64% anticipate a loss of revenue.

Does it make sense to keep vacancies unfilled for upwards of six months seemingly to avoid having to dedicate the time and resources inexperienced candidates would need to get up to speed? Or, would we be better off investing in good candidates to help them become a perfect fit (as highlighted in the Accenture study)? On the topic of skill and talent shortages as a whole, what do you believe are the main culprits?

We’d love to hear your thoughts!