Dealing with the skills gap
If you go to a staffing conference, chances are that you will hear a lot of talk about the skills gap. Not surprising, because it is a huge issue facing companies looking for talent, as well as the staffing companies trying to place workers. More and more companies are looking for specialized skills and just not finding it in the available workforce.
The current employment landscape
According to a Washington Post article that I saw recently, as of August last year we had 6.2 million job openings and 7 million unemployed people. Seems like with those kind of numbers our national unemployment rate should be less than the 4% we have now. The problem is that according to the companies, the workers available are not qualified for the positions. That pesky skills gap.
So, how did we get here? Why is there such a massive gap between what employers want and what employees have to offer? I have a few thoughts on the subject based on my experience.
The college try
One thing I think we should consider is that in the last few decades, there has been a big push for young people to go to college rather than learn a skilled trade. Around 69% of high school graduates go to college, compared to 40-50% in the 1960s and 70s. In essence, we never trained a whole generation of skilled workers, and it shows. A four year degree is not for everyone. Lots of jobs that do not require a college education end up being the hardest to fill. For instance, according to the American Staffing Association Skills Gap Index, the #1 hardest to fill job in the US as of August 2017 is heavy tractor-trailer truck drivers. Electrician is another in demand trade, and someone with experience can make up to $100,000 a year.
A lack of skilled trade workers is not the only factor when it comes to the skills gap. The top sectors with hard to fill jobs are engineering, information technology, scientific, and healthcare. A college degree is most likely needed for the majority of those jobs.
So what else to blame? Technology and a changing workforce, for one. In a recent Workforce Monitor survey from ASA, three out of four people surveyed (76%) say technology outpacing workers’ knowledge is a factor at least moderately responsible for causing the skills gap. It is part of what makes IT staffing such a hot industry, and why we import these skills from other countries with programs like the H-1B temporary visas. There is a huge need for workers with technical skills.
How do we fix it?
Like most things in life, there is not a quick answer to the skills gap. I think part of the onus lies with schools in training for necessary skills, and for students and parents to recognize that a college degree is not the only option for a successful career. I also think higher education institutions need to do a better job of working with employers to recognize and train for skills that are most in demand, especially when it comes to technology and STEM fields. Technology is moving at a rapid pace, and those that can evolve and adapt will come out on top.
While we’re never going to have full 100% employment for eligible workers, I think we can come closer if we start recognizing the type of skills that are wanted and we teach the current generation and the next how to get them.