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Bridging the Skills Gap

After years of debating whether the skills gap is real or simply a notion promoted by frustrated recruiters, evidence clearly highlights that American employers are facing a genuine, widespread and worsening gap between the skills they need and the skills the workforce possesses.

In a U.S. Chamber of Commerce survey, over half of small-business leaders said they faced a “very or fairly major challenge in recruiting non-managerial employees.” Among recent Inc. 5000 CEOs, 76 percent said they were experiencing major problems recruiting qualified people. Meanwhile, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics now predicts the number of unfilled jobs in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields will climb to a historic high of 1.2 million by year-end.

Such numbers are leading many people to the same conclusion: Companies will need to become more deeply involved in workforce development in order to avoid critical skills gaps within their own talent pools.

Spot the ‘high potentials’

Studies warn that some employers are exacerbating their own skills-gap problems through their recruiting practices. Specifically, too many employers keep doggedly searching for experienced candidates rather than hiring individuals with the right education, core skills and potential—and then developing those people.

Companies need to identify those high-potential, but less-experienced people and create training sessions, mentorship programs, project-experience opportunities and other professional development offerings to accelerate their growth.

At the same time, companies need to provide existing and mid-career employees with increased professional development opportunities – an item that was cut in many budgets during the recession.

In both cases, professional development program should stretch beyond hard-skills training to develop “whole persons” with solid interpersonal and communication skills, business acumen and management competencies.

Partner with educators

Greater corporate participation in the educational community is also needed to help reduce the skills gap. By supporting STEM classes in middle schools, innovative courses in community colleges, apprenticeship programs, industry-university joint endeavors and educational efforts by professional associations, companies can help foster a more highly skilled workforce and establish themselves as progressive, desirable employers.

This may all sound like a lot of extra work to heap on top of the daily demands of operating your company. However, analysts increasingly argue that heightened training efforts by employers are not just desirable, but essential. Stressing that “education and workforce systems in the United States are failing to keep pace with the changing needs of the economy,” the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation recently called on employers to apply the same importance, rigor and skills used in supply-chain management to talent-pipeline management