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How to Attack the Skills Gap

Mon, Jan 26, 2015

pexels-photo-221485.jpegWe live in a world that is constantly changing. Technologies emerge, evolve, and become obsolete quicker than ever before. This ever-changing environment, coupled with macroeconomic conditions, has brought the skills gap to the forefront of business discussions.

What exactly is the skills gap?

The skills gap is the divide between businesses demands for candidates with specific, deliverable skill-sets, and the broader market’s seeming lack of ability to supply enough of the right people. recently suggested that the skills gap is a myth wrought with layers of excuses and lack of action (perhaps partially true). However, if you took a second to talk to any business owner or executive they’ll all tell you the same thing: they simply can’t find enough of the people they need to drive their business.

Why is the skills gap happening?  

  • Lack of Education and Training – Most high schools, colleges, and universities are slow to react to skills demands from the private enterprise - specifically in technology related fields where advancements make it challenging to keep up.  Additionally, many companies, especially small and mid-market employers have not adequately invested in robust training programs that could help close the skills gap.
  • Geography – In one region there may be a strong population of candidates and moderate demand, yet in another geography there simply is not enough supply to satisfy the demand.  Potential candidates have roots – immediate families, homes, schooling, extended families, social circles – causing a lack of fluidity in the national marketplace.
  • Perception of Millennials – Most business owners and executives view the millennial generation as being entitled, dispassionate about their work, and challenging to manage and keep happy.  This perception unfortunately leads to a reluctance to hire and train.
  • Lack of Flexibility – Many businesses look for someone who has been there, done that, not only from a skill perspective, but from industry, and company size perspectives as well.  Instead of looking for a world-class chef capable of preparing exceptional meals, they look for line cooks that can follow a recipe.  Sometimes this is warranted, but certainly not always. 

How can you attack the skills gap?

  • Forge Public/Private Partnerships – Leading universities and premier employers should work together to build strong, interdependent partnerships.  If done correctly, these partnerships will prove beneficial on all ends.  Employers will build better, real time pipelines of viable candidates; education institutions will become more marketable to students, offering a clearer path to good career opportunities; and students will see the direct benefits of going through a program partially crafted by private enterprise.
  • Build Training Programs – Employers need to take ownership over their skills gap by designing and implementing engaging, interactive training programs to address their most critical skills areas.  
  • Apprenticeships / Internships – A great way to identify strong candidates for potential permanent hire positions is by building apprenticeship or internship programs.  Not only can this be relatively cheap labor, but you’ll begin the training process on the job, impart skills, and figure out who the hardest working, best employees are.  Do it right, and you can scoop these people up before they hit the open market.
  • Consider Relocations – Big cities sometimes have the glitz and glam, but even second tier cities and suburban areas can attract relocation candidates if they pitch the opportunity right and wow candidates during the courting process.  
  • Hire New Grads – Are some millennials entitled and finicky?  Sure. But most are not. In my experience millennials are ready to run through a brick wall for a good career opportunity. Successful companies are in the habit of interviewing college grads and MBAs, hiring for baseline intellect, work ethic, and potential, knowing they will need to invest in training.  

There is no doubt that any of the above solutions alone will not solve the skills gap problem.  Specifically in Western New York, as manufacturing continues to rise, we will need to address the skills gap problem head on with a blend of approaches, including private enterprises taking ownership of employment realities and doing what they can to control their talent pipeline. The skills gap is likely to become a more challenging problem as economies and marketplaces evolve more quickly; however, leaders investing in ways to close the gap will help their organizations gain a critical competitive advantage.

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