WHat’s a skills gap?
Essentially, a skills gap is when companies in a certain industry seem to consistently be having trouble with finding job candidates who have the skills for the role they are hoping to fill. It’s a widespread problem. According to Pew Research, the number of workdays it takes to fill the average job vacancy has been quickly increasing.
It’s also important to note that many skills gaps tend to be a local problem depending on the industries that are common in a certain area.
Where do Skills Gaps Come From?
Finding that there just aren’t people with the skills you need in your area is frustrating. But, there are many reasons you could be struggling to find skilled candidates:
- Lack of interest in that field among graduates. If your field in particular isn’t fashionable at the moment, then there might not be enough people choosing majors in your area.
- High expectations on job ads. If the job ad is written to be idealistic, then people may worry they’re not qualified and refrain from applying.
- Compensation at your company might not be competitive for your area.
- Candidates are unwilling to pay for their own training in this field. (According to the Pew Center for Research, 72% of workers feel that “a lot” of responsibility falls on the individual for training).
- Things are changing faster than they used to. Technology and regulations are changing at lightning speed, making it more difficult for candidates to keep up with.
- Locals consider jobs in your field boring or dangerous.
WHAT INDUSTRIES STRUGGLE WITH SKILLS GAPS?
Luckily, you’re not alone. There are many fields that are struggling with skills gaps in certain areas of the country right now, including:
- Finance and business
HOW DO YOU CLOSE THE SKILLS GAPS?
Some steps to closing skills gaps include:
- Performing a skills gaps analysis in order to confirm what you already know, as well as catch other skills gaps early (some Economic Development Councils [EDCs] can help with this)
- Analyze what skills you may need in the future
- Decide on a strategy for addressing the skills gaps
- Look at current progress and repeat
For some skills gaps, simply investing in marketing your industry better will result in more students choosing that field. Your company might also want to investigate whether the compensation they offer is comparable to other companies in their industry.
However, one of the best ways to try and address skills gaps is training. In a world where continuous learning throughout a career is expected anyways, it’s worth considering investing training for new *and* current employees to get great candidates to the level that’s ideal for your company.
Here are some strategy ideas for using training to close the skills gap.
RAISE AWARENESS OF YOUR INDUSTRY
Sometimes a skills gap is simply a marketing issue. The reality is that many, many jobs are available that young people are not even aware of because they’re not in the usual roster of primary jobs they hear about as children. But you can fix that.
- Partner with local colleges and trade schools to sponsor students
- Show up at trade shows, employments fairs, and college job fairs to reach out to students and job seekers. It might even be worth offering a certain amount of free training to the prospects you meet.
- Partner with local workforce boards. Sometimes certain certifications require on the job training – you can offer to let the OTJ training happen at your workplace.
- Organize with local high schools to have a field trip to your workplace.
- Market training and upskilling programs to existing employees.
CREATE AN ONBOARDING PROGRAM
In an industry with skills gaps, an onboarding program may be key to prepping new candidates for their roles. The onboarding program may be especially successful if it can adapt to prior candidate knowledge. Certain new hires might be able to skip a few days of training.
Onboarding can also create excitement for the company and set expectations for the learning culture for your company. This will prepare employees for what will follow and help foster the culture you desire. It can also reduce turnover by letting employees know you care about their career growth.
CREATE A CONTINUOUS LEARNING/SUCCESSION PROGRAM
Instead of hiring fresh, untrained candidates, consider training those you already have. If you implement continuous training at your company, entry-level employees will be able to move up to more skilled roles when they open up.
This is a great option for companies experiencing a shortage of candidates for roles that require a few years of hands-on experience.
An internal continuous learning program is also more likely to be responsive to the ever-changing needs of the industry than outside institutions and can be more organization-specific as well. Continuous training can be more cost-effective than waiting to retrain employees at the critical point. Case in point, AT&T ended up investing a billion dollars in retraining an entire half of its 250,000 person workforce in order to stay current with the market. The alternative was to replace that half with more qualified candidates, which would’ve cost even more. Continuous training would have significantly reduced that billion-dollar investment.
Choose Candidates Based on Personality
Look around at your best employees. What makes them successful? I can guarantee it’s not just the training.
Look for candidates that emulate what makes your best employees great, whether it’s being team-oriented, great at details, empathetic, good communicators, or having other soft skills traits that are hard to train.
Also, universally, seek candidates that are eager, life-long learners. Those who are curious and hardworking are highly trainable.
These candidates will become great team members once they’ve gone through some extra catch-up training to help them fill the roles you need filled.
Pay Back Student Debt
Some industries, such as the health care field, might require several years of study. It might not be viable to put employees in school directly after hiring them. Instead, offer to pay back (either partially or in full) student debt in exchange for a number of years of loyalty to your company.
A debt pay-back program helped recruit lots of educated people to work in difficult yet crucial public service jobs such as teaching. Nearly 60,000 people have applied as of December 2018. Thousands more are in the process of becoming qualified.
The key is, you have to be sure to make the contract terms clear and follow through on them. Many people enrolled in the public service debt forgiveness programs have struggled to get the money they feel they deserve. The government has denied 99% of applications for public service loan forgiveness. Graduates are unlikely to take a similar risk without clear contracts and uncomplicated terms after witnessing their peers get applications to reduce their debt denied.
Be Open-Minded About the Training You Accept
90% of companies are dropping four-year degree requirements. Here are some of the forms of education they are accepting instead:
- MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) which are available for free (a low-cost option for you that places less discouraging burden on the candidate)
- Certifications, especially from sources that are highly qualified and that the company trusts
- Digital badges from online courses, either from outside sources or courses provided by the company (think about Google product-specific certifications as an example)
The way people learn is changing. Formal classrooms and training programs are no longer the only option, and many other methods of education are effective. These other methods of education can also be more accessible to potential candidates and make it easier for them to receive the training companies require. Recognizing new modes of learning will help the company keep up with the times and adjust expectation to match the realities of modern education.
Skills gaps are the result of an ever-changing world, and your response must be creative and flexible. With these tips, you’ll be sure to find a strategy that suits your company’s needs soon.