How To Solve The Skills Gap In United States

skills gap in united states

A skills gap in United States?

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Introduction

51 Skills Gap Problems

21 Skills Gap Solutions

Conclusion

1. INTRODUCTION 

A skills gap in United States? Government officials, economists, employment specialists, companies and workers are all concerned with whether or not the workers will be able to fill the millions of advertised jobs in the US.  Throughout the country, a skills gap exists between the abilities of the workers and the requirements of employers.  This skills gap is present in the different sectors of the economy. It is present in everything from construction, manufacturing, mechanical, health care, food production, engineering, information technology and even retail.  The popular idea is that there simply aren’t enough workers with the right set of skills. But this idea is simplistic as it focuses on the weaknesses of the worker while ignoring the environment within which the worker operates.

Every month, there are about 5 to 7 million unfilled job openings in the US.

This is a figure which persists, and shows no sign of a decline. When discussing the matter with companies, they often cite the difficulty which they have in finding and retaining skilled employees. As for the workers, they often cite skills mismatch issues. Often workers feel either too over-qualified or too under-qualified for any job role they are at. A report from the National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB) verified these findings. The report claimed that “45% of small businesses could not find skilled applicants to fill job vacancies at the beginning of 2017”.  In another report by Manpower Group (2018), 45% of the 39 000+ companies which were surveyed had a tough time filling the roles which they needed due to skills issues.  Skills gaps and skills mismatches can lead to lost productivity for companies, and have a detrimental effect on the growth of worker careers and the economy.

Workers, economists and employers have offered vastly different explanations for the skills gap. First, workers tend to view the skills gap as created by the very difficult employment screening practices, low wages, and the lack of training plan to keep workers up to date with changing technology. Second, the economists tend to view the skills gap as created by several factors such as; the high level of automate-ability of many new jobs, and the high degree of specialization which new tech intensive jobs require.  Third, employers tend to view the skills gap as caused by a limitation in the number of employees which are available. They argue, that if one were to increase the supply of labour through  immigration and foreign work permits, the gap could be addressed. Regardless of who has presented the right solution, one thing is clear, the nation will continually need to solve for the skills gap as the workers will be continually challenged to keep up with new technologies as they are adapted and deployed within the work environment. 

Whether or not the employer perspective of increasing the supply of labour would work, one has to approach this solution with a bit of skepticism and as a few questions. Would an increased supply of labour lower or increase wages? Further, would society benefit? Are businesses lobbying hard to fix the skills gap or simply to lower wages and have access to foreign workers?  Employers usually argue for more supply, which is an argument for lower wages and greater management influence and control. On the other side of the argument, are usually workers who tend to argue the opposite view.  The solutions that should be taken to address the skills gap, would hopefully be solutions which would protect decent wages while helping workers to enter and stay in the middle class.

Though no one entity (employer, economist, worker) seems to present the full picture, in this article, we have compiled a lengthy and comprehensive list of all of the problems and potential solutions to the skills gap challenge facing the US.

2. 51 SKILLS GAP PROBLEMS

problems

Skills Gap Problem #1 – lack of geographical mobility

In the past, Americans were willing to move to different cities for work. The mobility was the key which unlocked the human potential by allowing people to contribute their skills to suitable and well matched opportunities.   Nowadays, job seekers are no longer willing or financially able to make this transition to another city for work. This situation has created a severe geographical mismatch between where the talent is located and where the opportunity exists.

Skills Gap Problem #2 – rural areas can’t prepare workers for transition

The cities which have successfully created a technological work community have been able to somewhat prepare workers on the next generation of jobs. However, cities which have not made this transition, often in rural locations, have no way to help their workers for a transition to the new economy.   Those who have had technological work opportunity will get more, and those who have not had, will not get any.

Skills Gap Problem #3 – work postings have non-standard requirements

Many work postings have non-standard requirements. Meaning, though one can find work postings with a similar name, upon looking at the requirements, those are very unique and varied. The dissimilarity in the requirements makes it very confusing for new entrants to the labour market to figure out exactly how to structure their “skills portfolio” to be as much of a match as possible for the “widest possible amount of job postings”.  This variance in job posting description also confuses curriculum designers at community colleges and universities.

Skills Gap Problem #4 – job functions are continually changing

Job functions are dynamic and ever changing. Because the roles change on an ongoing basis, it is very difficult to design a training program that can prepare someone specifically and exactly for a particular job function. By the time a credential is designed, built, deployed and students trained on, the job function has changed several times. The “technology economy” is dynamic and this makes it tough to standardize an effective educational program stream into any occupational role.

Case Study: Initially, graphic designers designed imagery with a basic two dimensional image editing application that was destined for print. As the internet technologies expanded throughout the world, designers had to learn how to design, build and manage websites. However, soon after the rapid expansion of the internet throughout the world, internet media technologies began to quickly evolve in the direction of “design for mobile”, “video design and production”, “design of interactive web based software applications”, “interaction design”, “user interface design” and even “user experience research”.  It is possible to spend a year learning one skill, only to have it last a few years on the job market, before the mastery of a new skill is required. The job role evolution is an ongoing process that requires continual re-training.

Skills Gap Problem #5 – emerging market competition

Initially, the outsourcing of “low wage” jobs to emerging markets left the US with little choice but to compete in the “high wage” economy.   Many companies in the US could only manufacture and produce within the “high wage” economy.  Over time, “high wage” jobs also began a transition to the emerging markets. This has both reduced the range of jobs which an American worker can qualify for, but also, it has broadened the skills competition for jobs to include the whole world.

Skills Gap Problem #6 – artificial intelligence can replace work tasks

Artificial Intelligence (AI) will allow for both low skill and high skill tasks to be automated. However, it will take a long time for the thousands of possible task and task combinations to become automated. Though Artificial Intelligence (AI) will gradually make inroads into the labour market, workers can pursue ongoing education and employers can redefine and rebuild job frameworks to allow for opportunities where workers can work in conjunction with AI.

Skills Gap Problem #7 – job skill requirements scope creep

Sometimes, employers create very length job descriptions that inflate the skill requirements drastically rather than offering a good view of the work opportunity. At other times, employers broaden the role by filling in additional requirements to the job description that are not part of the role. As a result, most applicants will not meet such requirements. It may be the case that some good applicants who would have applied may have not done so due to the misunderstanding that is created from inaccurate job roles that have extra scope creep.

Skills Gap Problem #8 – K12 and post-secondary have fallen behind

Technology is relentless in that it continually advances at a very quick pace. This rapid advancement poses a significant challenge to the traditional and slower moving university and college systems. Universities and colleges do attempt to continually update their programs and even to release entire new programs, however, it is proving not to be enough.  According to a 2011 Harvard Graduate School of Education study, 1/3rd of America’s young adults are not able to get a degree by the mid twenties.  Even worse, in certain critical specialties such as computer science, only approximately 3% of college graduate major in such a field.  To bridge this gap, it is essential to better prepare people for post secondary, and this could be achieved with more enhanced private tutoring and a more tech focused k-12 curriculum design and delivery policy.

Skills Gap Problem #9 – reliance on university and college

Society tends to rely completely on college or university to address the skills deficits in the labour market.  Though there are other training mechanisms created by businesses and other organizations, such as the required professional financial certifications to work in the financial industry, the popular idea remains that college and university is to be relied upon for the professional career preparation.

Skills Gap Problem #10 – workers are not trained or practiced in Industry 4.0 skills

The jobs which are offered on the labour marketplace are often on the leading edge and very technical STEM oriented opportunities.  These opportunities require the understanding of specialized niche and up and coming fields, a very specific understanding which is unlike the “essentials of information technology” which so many technicians are trained and practiced in.  There simply aren’t enough people with industry 4.0 training and practice to fill the in-demand jobs across the various industrial sectors. Industry 4.0 requires niche technological insight and aptitude. Some examples of the technologies in demand are; DevOps Engineer, Hybrid Cloud Engineer, Machine Learning Engineer, AI for HealthCare, AI for Business, Machine Learning with TensorFlow, Cloud Architect, Data Visualization, UX Designer, iOS Developer, Full Stack Web Developer, Predictive Analytics, React, BioInformatics, Cybersecurity, Big Data, 3D Printing, Instructional Design, Internet of Things, Nano-science and Quantum Technology.  After students study for a total of 16 years, the K12 + post-secondary, they still haven’t even begun to research even one of these fields, let alone a dozen of them that may be required for broad technological aptitude.

Skills Gap Problem #11 – education remains theoretical and lecture based

Though the type of education that is offered within any particular university or college varies from department to department, the general theme for many institutions is that the nature of the education offered has remained largely traditional, theoretical, lecture and textbook based. This style of teaching contrasts heavily with the “hands on” and “applied project” style of teaching that employers would prefer.   Due to the old style of teaching prevalent in many departments across post-secondary institutions nationwide, many students are unprepared to deal with the stress inducing and performance oriented real world projects which must be accomplished at work.   Unfortunately, young students are unaware of the alternative educational training options available from private professional schools, technical schools, apprenticeship programs, learning institutes, online open courses and industry tailored training options.  It is through the alternative programs that students can get the “exact information” and “project work” which they will need to succeed with a modern employer.

Skills Gap Problem #12 – many K12 teachers are unprepared to teach STEM

Though the United States spent $739 billion in 2016-17 for public elementary and secondary schools, this amount was still insufficient to fully train and equip the students for the workforce.  Either there is a lack of funding, or the funding itself was inefficiently deployed. Teachers report low access to equipment, funding and other resources required to teach tech related hands-on projects. In addition, there are many K12 teachers which are either unprepared to teach up to date technical topics or even the direct STEM essentials.

Skills Gap Problem #13 – insufficient STEM graduates

In 2016, there were about half a million openings for computer specialists, but only about 65 000 graduates attained bachelor degrees in information systems and computer science. This difference between the supply of labour and the demand for labour has created labour market imbalance with serious consequences. Employers were forced to outsource their operations to other countries where a sufficient number of technically trained individuals were ready for employment.  

Case Study:  The demand for software developers was and is so strong, that many companies have relocated a large fraction of their entire workforce to countries with a sizeable enough of a population centre where the talent pipeline would not restrict the growth of their company.  IBM for example has relocated 130 000 employees, about 1/3rd of the workforce, to India.

Skills Gap Problem #14 – not enough companies partner with educators

Not even half of companies based in the US partner with either community organizations or colleges.  Without partnerships in place, the community organizations and colleges are not able to create and deploy relevant curriculum deliverables, hands on project labs or any other work related training that the students would need to succeed as employees.  Though businesses are very good at partnering with other suppliers, when it comes to “talent supply”, this is an often ignored supply metric.   The lack of collaboration and communication, means that the exact requirements for training are not well understood, and therefore, not often aligned with real world needs.  

Skills Gap Problem #15 – IT is required by almost all modern businesses

IT is required by almost all modern businesses. Even businesses which traditionally did not deal with online technology and therefore did not need to hire any IT specialists, they now find that they need to manage multiple complex online information systems and platforms.  As a result of the widespread and universal technical demand to be present and effective on the internet, most businesses are concerned with finding and retaining the top technical talent.

Skills Gap Problem #16 – unending “hiring and let go mode”

In a recent survey provided by TEK Systems to 1300 IT leaders, 60% reported that there was a skills gap present in their department and that this gap severely or moderately impacted their team or organization.  The IT leaders did not believe that the current employees had the necessary skills required by the organization.  This could explain why many organizations seem to take part in an unending stream of “hiring and dismissal” HR practice.

Skills Gap Problem #17 – key sectors face worker shortages

Health Care – Health Care is an essential industrial sector which is facing a serious challenge trying to find and retain skilled workers.  The shortage of skilled workers presents a big challenge seeing as though the demographics changes towards an older general population are pushing up the demand for services.

Education Education departments across the U.S. are concerned with a future where there are not enough K-12 teachers.

Technology -Technology is an important industrial sector which is facing a serious challenge trying to find and retain skilled workers.  Software developers, IT administrators and cybersecurity analysts are the kind of deep skills needed to push forward business initiatives.  The skills gap in this area seems to continually increase. At any point in time, there are easily approximately one million open roles available in the U.S. for technology professionals.

Construction – Retiring construction workers across the U.S. will increase the pressure that is already being felt within many regions.

Financial Services – The financial economy as a proportion of total economy is quite large relative to other sectors in the U.S., meaning a lot of people rely on the financial services industry for their earnings.  Unfortunately, quite a few professions in this industry are facing a shortage that is increasing as both fewer people become professionals in this field and current financial professionals prepare to leave the workforce for retirement.

Manufacturing – When people think of manufacturing, the kind of images that come to mind are usually unpleasant thoughts of low paid, dirty, dangerous, laborious and low tech type of work. Thoughts of manufacturing could include ideas such as workers on an assembly line assembling oily car engine parts, workers on an assembly line cutting and packaging various types of raw meats, workers mixing chemicals, workers packaging boxes continuously in a mind numbing and repetitive way, and so forth.  Definitely not the kind of thing you’d aspire to attain as a profession in life.  People want to be able to provide for their family and to achieve the American Dream, and apparently for the millennial generation, that no longer includes a job at a manufacturing plant. These ideas have led to a growing worker deficit in this industry.  The shirking labour supply has enticed more manufacturers to set up shop in other countries where there exists an ample supply of workers who aspire to attain such jobs. But are today’s notions about manufacturing correct?  Today’s manufacturing facilities can often have people who look like scientists dressed in full white lab outfits walking gently within a clean room kind of environment,  working with next generation technological products, and are well paid.

Skills Gap Problem #18 – retiring baby boom generation

The baby boom generation is leaving the workforce. The replacement workers, the millennials, do not have the same industrial and machinery related skills that would be necessary for a good transition. Companies may find that it will become a challenge to teach the kinds of skills that baby boomers have, to a new generation that has practiced their entire life a set of skills on a different part of the skills spectrum.

Skills Gap Problem #19 – tech advances faster than people development

The rate of technological advancement is faster than the rate of worker professional development.  Because workers cannot keep up with the change in technological development, they are not able to fully maximize the potential benefit such technologies could provide their host organization.  Though companies can purchase the latest technologies, the purchase alone is insufficient to ensure the maximum possible benefit. 

Skills Gap Problem #20 – outdated perceptions about industrial operations

Families and youth have outdated perceptions about the nature of the industrial operations within modern organizations. For example, many people still see manufacturing as being outdated, dirty, dangerous, low wage and labour intensive. This could not be farther from the truth.    People lack the real insight and real information as to what goes on within a modern manufacturing facility and how to attain such a position.

Skills Gap Problem #21 – lack of loyalty between worker and employer

The key way in which a company can show their workers that their contributions are valued is through the establishment of a “promotion from within system” rather than a reliance on hiring outside experts to fill vacant positions.   Having a system which develops and promotes the great candidates also creates an environment which is more conducive to enhancing loyalty in the employment relationship. The key is to select workers which have shown some loyalty, which have a good track record, and which have put in enough time on the job that it’s apparent the principle motivation is not to ”job hop”.

Skills Gap Problem #22 – unnecessary qualifications required

From the kind of job descriptions that frequently circulate online job boards, one begins to wonder if companies have through deeply and researched well the skill and qualifications levels available within their area.  Whether located in small cities or large cities, many companies end up asking for the moon. It is common to see long job descriptions filled with skills and qualifications that are often beyond the scope of the role that needs to be filled.   Instead of complex job descriptions, companies need to focus on fewer and simpler core elements of the job. They also need to double check that the job description posted does not contain any unnecessary skills and qualifications listed.  By being realistic, and having a realistic view of the available labour supply ability, a greater supply of candidates can be assessed for the position.

Skills Gap Problem #23 – low wages and big demands

In almost all industries, employers have high or perfect expectations of job candidates. Logically, it should be obvious that a “premium skills demand” or “expectation of premium worker ability and background” should command a high wage. But apparently, it’s not so obvious. When an employer has high demands but offers a low wage, they are self-inflicting a problem. The problem is that they are creating vacancies that cannot be filled, and this is expensive result for everyone.

Case Study: Utah’s Department of Workforce Services surveyed employers and found that only 22% believed that low wages was a hiring problem, even though a vast majority, 68% provided low wages.  This survey shows that it is not always an easy thing for employers to self-diagnose their own issues. 

Skills Gap Problem #24 – outsourcing and offshoring have damaged industries

Outsourcing and offshoring has reduced the productive capacity of many industries in the U.S.  Industries such as manufacturing, which used to employ many trades people such as welders and machinists, have had a large portion of their formerly skilled pool of labour switch to other work opportunities.  There may not be enough workers in such industries to restart and build productive capacity once again.

Skills Gap Problem #25 – passive hiring practices

Few companies reach out and actively engage with the community to recruit skilled workers. Instead, companies favour a more passive approach that involves putting up a job ad, waiting for random responses, and eventually potentially making a selection using other sources of feedback and insight. This is a fairly passive process that underutilizes the available talent which colleges and universities produce.

Skills Gap Problem #26 – social challenge of weak demand for workers

One of the popular solutions to the skills gap outlined by politicians involves increasing the educational budgets of educational institutions.  This solution emphasizes the idea that the worker demand is less of a priority than is the shortage of a supply of labour. To de-emphasize the low worker demand problem in the economy is to avoid the reality of the social challenges we face in the economy today.

Skills Gap Problem #27 – responsibility for skills lies with student & school

The responsibility for training workers has been shifted over to the public sector.  Students must now bear the financial risk of attending a public college, and if it turns out to be the case that a major was chosen which does not yield a suitable job, then that is a big financial loss and life loss for the student and their family.  The current model of “risk allocation” and “cost of training” is an expensive way to teach work based skills, which could most easily and cheaply learned within the work environment.

Skills Gap Problem #28 – wage premium for college training comes only with access to college level work

Sending a student to college will not increase their wage because they went to college. It would only work to increase their wage if the person managed to get employment at a college level employment placement. If you studied civil engineering, but you work as a computer sales person, your degree does not boost your income. Sadly, many college grads work in high school level employment placements after spending many years to prepare professionally.  For occupational roles where there are surpluses of high level trained individuals relative to the amount of jobs in those roles, further training a large amount of students those domains will only exacerbate the skills gap.

Skills Gap Problem #29 – increased supply of applicants

Organized labour would like to see lower supply of applicants to job positions so as to maintain decent wages. Employers would like to increase the supply of applicants to all positions that they offer, which has the effect of limiting possible wage growth.  A lot of businesses which attempt to influence public opinion on issues such as skilled foreign workers and immigration, could potentially be doing so not only to solve skills gap, but to put a lid on wages.

Skills Gap Problem #30 – not enough interest in the trades 

Even with millions of vacant positions in the trades and manufacturing in the U.S., there is not enough interest in the trades among todays young adults.  Demand for workers in these sectors is projected to increase significantly as more than 78 million baby boomers retire.  For companies which have a more boomer oriented workforce, it is likely that many of them have not made transitional training plans to transition their operations to be handled by the next generation.  

Skills Gap Problem #31 – hiring managers which are unsure what a positions skill requirements are

On many occasions, the hiring managers are unsure as to what the actual position skill requirements are. Though the majority of hiring managers and other human resource professionals are knowledgeable in hiring practices, they do not often have the specialized domain background or working knowledge base that the workers in the different disciplines have.  As a result, human resource professionals often have to do their best estimate to guess as to what the actual job requirements should be for any particular position. Whether making job requirements specifications, assessing resumes or interviewing potential candidates, the limited insights the human resource professionals have about particular jobs can make it difficult to select the right candidate.  Many times, human resource professionals will simply put in a degree that most closely seems to match the professional skills they are looking for, within the job advertisement.

Skills Gap Problem #32 – boomers, an aging workforce

The demographic cliff is a serious problem in the U.S., as is the case in most parts of the world. As skilled boomer workers retire, they are taking their professional skills, their experience, their specialized product knowledge, their relationships with members of external organizations, their relationship within members internal to their own organization and their customers contacts, with them.  The businesses are losing serious capability at the same time while there are problems finding and retaining even basic entry level workers.

Skills Gap Problem #33 – college instead of specialized professional program

While there is no doubt that a college educated workforce is critical to a modern economy, what happens to society when virtually everyone wishes to attend college at the expense of every other type of training system?  The U.S. faces a situation where all of the private professional training programs, such as professional training programs offered by the financial services industry or professional designation/certification programs offered by non-profits, institutes, associations, corporations, and other private trainers are no longer as visible early on to the youth.  There are many good training options that are far quicker and cheaper and more on point and more applicable to the job than the college pathway.  Unfortunately, a generation of youth did not know about the full extent of their training opportunities in life, and for quite a few, college did not work out.

Skills Gap Problem #34 – credentialism, reliance on academic credentials

Credentialism refers to a heavy reliance on multiple credentials for proving your ability to complete work in a particular domain, a domain which often should not need the level of academic expertise requested. Credentialism has become a very popular term with today’s aspiring millennial workers. It is usually referred to in the context of just how incredibly insane the credential competition for basic job roles is. As an example, the typical strength training coach at the local recreation centre has to take a plethora of qualifications, certifications, degrees, designations, volunteer experiences and prominent work experiences just to have a chance at an employment opportunity. As another example, about only one in four office administration workers in the U.S. holds a bachelor degree, yet half of the job postings require one for the same roles.

Skills Gap Problem #35 – companies should lobby for educational partnerships rather than tax credits

Lobbying to get tax credits as a method of addressing the skills gap is not as effective as lobbying to push policymakers towards helping employer-worker-educator partnerships form.

Skills Gap Problem #36 – educators don’t understand employer requirements

Educators don’t often travel to different places of work, and therefore, they do not particulate in company work activities and projects so as to get an insight as to what is involved.  Additionally, the schools don’t always hire former workers from industry, but hire lifelong professors with an academic and teaching background.  This approach can sometimes result in educational establishments which create their own environment in isolation, without specific insight as to the latest developments in the working world.  Unless educators can figure out how to get invited by companies to view and take part in the new industrial projects,  they won’t be able to analyze and evaluate and attain the information that is critical for a proper alignment between “course curriculum creation” and the related job role. Educators must also figure out how to get the employer to participate in the course design and evaluation process as well.

Skills Gap Problem #37 – men and millennial/Gen Z most affected 

The skills gap has impacted men, particularly millennial and Gen Z, profoundly. Millennial and Gen Z report many job related concerns in general.  The first example is the concern that there is a need to continually up-skill to meet the needs of ever-changing skill requirements.  The second example is the concern that advancements in AI, robotics, blockchain and other automation technologies has the ability or will achieve the ability to displace them from work.  The third example is the concern that there are general limited financial opportunities for young adult workers to relocate to other geographical locations where potentially more gainful and appropriate employment could be achieved.  The fourth example concern is the idea that there are now only limited promotion opportunities within companies, less than the previous generation. The fifth concern is the idea that the world has experienced technological deflation which has led to a steady decline in the ability of entrepreneurs to launch profitable business endeavours as compared to the ease with which entrepreneurs launched businesses throughout the previous generation.

Skills Gap Problem #38 – up-skilling efforts target only the strong performers

Employers prefer to provide professional development training opportunities to employees which show a strong workplace performance rather than to at-risk employees which barely get by.  By not offering training opportunities to the weaker employees, coincidentally the same employees who face “technological irrelevancy”, then that means the training efforts do not end up where they could provide the most benefit.

Skills Gap Problem #39 – public sector education can only address part of the problem

The public sector cannot always accurately simulate the work environment within the confines of the school environment. As such, they cannot address the skills gap problem alone. Even though this is possibly obvious to a lot of employers, the responsibility is still shifted fully to the public sector. 

Skills Gap Problem #40 – the training gap

The word “skills gap” may best be thought of as a “training gap”.  The problem with the “skills gap” terminology, is that it tends to shift the argument or thinking to the “limitations of the worker” rather than to the shared responsibility companies, government and individuals have in making the right investments towards employee training.  Due to the intense global competition for business, profit margins are often not enough to allow companies to efficiently allocate capital towards employee development.  As a result, the training is almost non existent and a skills deficit is formed throughout the worker population.

Skills Gap Problem #41 – use of digital screening tools filters out good candidates

Some firms receive up to several hundred applications for an employment opportunity. Comparing such a large database of resumes quickly and with an objective, systematic, effective, consistent and reliable approach can be quite a difficult and time consuming task.  Firms have attempted to apply the use of digital tools to solve this assessment challenge.  By using screening tools to filter through resumes, hiring managers are able to narrow down the selection consideration to a few candidates for human assessment. Unfortunately, over time, the use of automated screening tools has increased the number of skills, competencies and certifications required to an unreasonably high level.  A person who is good at key-wording, statement writing and resume benchmarking may be able to game the algorithms to beat out a potentially better candidate.

Skills Gap Problem #42 – 100% reliance on applicants to have needed skills 

Nowadays, it is expected that the candidate for a job comes to the job with the required skill. If they do not have the skill, then they are simply regarded as not being able to do the job. But isn’t it a bit unreasonable to expect that someone from outside of an organization to guess, develop, practice and gain experience with skills that are internal, unique and specific to an organization? Aren’t internal company processes mostly hidden from the outside world? Traditionally, human resource practices involved assessing job candidates, developing employee abilities and preparing employees for future promotions. Under the traditional model, the employer took responsibility for ensuring the skills were provided to the employees that needed them. However, nowadays businesses suggest that 100% of the responsibility for skills development should be borne by educational establishments and the individual.

Skills Gap Problem #43 – STEM degrees are not widely pursued

Sometimes, students chose to take majors that they believe that they can accomplish or simply those that are easier and less rigorous.  STEM is usually associated with hardship and rigour, and as such, are not as widely pursued.

Skills Gap Problem #44 – too many educated workers promotes low wages

In the U.S., there are quite a few individuals and companies that must deal with the “skills mismatches”; situations where educated individuals must take job roles that are either below their level of education or uneducated individuals who must take roles that are above their level of education.  The result is either a dissatisfied employee, a dissatisfied employer, or mutual dissatisfaction.  Further, in the situation where there are too many educated individuals for the labour marketplace opportunities, this has the effect of lowering wages below what would constitute a fair value.

Skills Gap Problem #45 – “education” doesn’t guarantee “skill”

A lot of young adults automatically assume that once their eduction is attained, the world will recognize the new skills which they have gained. Employers don’t tend to think of “education” as equivalent to “skill” because of the fact that many times what is taught in post-secondary bares only a remote resemblance to what workers often end up doing at  work.

Skills Gap Problem #46 – constant hiring undermines internal promotion systems

Hiring is a difficult and time consuming activity for many HR professionals.  Employees no longer work an entire lifetime for one employer, but tend to shift between employers every few years. This significant decline in employee tenure has resulted in an environment where HR professionals are constantly hiring new individuals to fill vacant positions which have already been previously filled a few times.  This ongoing worker turnover undermines the possibility of deploying an internal promotion system within the work environment.

Skills Gap Problem #47 – decline of promotion from within system

America’s startups have to operate with far fewer human resources than the corporations.  This means that not only do workers have to wear multiple hats, but they must also have a sufficient amount of experience so as to be able to cover for a wide variety of experience levels. This makes it difficult for college grads without any experience to break into such organizations. As for America’s corporations, they employ a large number of individuals, and this allows the corporations to employ workers of all different levels of experience to fill the various positions available within the corporate hierarchy.  However, there are a few opportunities for entry level workers as there are group hiring events scheduled by the corporations where some college grads have the opportunity to network and attain roles.  It didn’t always used to be this way. In the past, companies relied greatly on “internal promotion systems”. This meant that companies hired more often for entry level roles, giving more opportunities to college grads.  Instead, hiring is now distributed for roles across all experience levels, where there are fewer opportunities for college grads.

Skills Gap Problem #48 – work experience skills recognized, academic skills unrecognized

Students who are in college or who have graduated are often surprised to find out that their coursework ends up not being of much interest or a subject of conversation with most employers.  Though employers recognize work experience skills, many are not so quick to recognize and or think about the worker’s academic skills.  This goes against common convention or popular opinion on the subject of the relevance and importance of college education for skills development. Employers prefer to hire candidates that derive their skills from previous work experience. Even for students who have not even finished their studies, they are expected to present their skills as derived from work experience.

Skills Gap Problem #49 – decline of apprenticeships

Apprenticeship programs used to be key method which companies used to onboard new workers to the work environment.  However, with the decline of unions, which used to manage these programs, apprenticeship programs have mostly disappeared from the landscape.  The 50 000 annual apprenticeships in the United States do not make any impact on a labour force which is approximately 160 million strong.

Skills Gap Problem #50 – hiring requirements are unstandardized

Job applicants cannot determine what skills to develop from the hiring requirements for any particular job position because the hiring requirements are unstandardized across companies. Though the position titles may be the same from company to company, the actual description for each position is different according to the unique needs of each company.  This “narrow job definition practice” is so specific, that it significantly constrains the available supply of labour which can apply for the roles.

Skills Gap Problem #51 – managers without a technical background may not understand the time their technical requests may take 

When entering a new technical role at a company, it may be wrong to automatically assume that the manager in charge will have an understanding of how long a particular technical task will take to accomplish. Whether writing a page of code, or trying to understand the design and functioning of a software stack, or fixing a website administration issue; each task is unique and different in complexity.  Managers without a technical background will have a difficult time to estimate both how long it will take someone new at a job role to understand a company specific technical environment, and also, how long someone new to the role will need to engineer a solution.  Usually, understanding and devising solutions to technical problems takes a thorough involved multi-day or multi-week investigation, and this is not something that is expected by non-technical leadership teams.  New technicians may struggle to fit into companies, and may be mislabelled as not having skills, when in fact, the real problem may be a high and ongoing turnover created by an inexperienced management team which attempts to hire someone with an immediate “instantly available” solution.

3. 21 SKILLS GAP SOLUTIONS

partnerships

Skills Gap Solution #1 – adopt apprenticeships

Apprenticeship programs are similar to internships, as they place the student into a work arrangement with an employer and alternate work with studies. Apprenticeship programs feature work tasks that re-enforce the lessons learned at school. Also, the employer is effectively designing the experience in partnership with an educational establishment. Apprenticeships lead to good results as the training is effective at preparing and bridging students to future jobs. Not enough schools take the initiative to secure apprenticeship placements with employers for their students.  The only other possibility would be unions, but they have gone into a significant decline.

Skills Gap Solution #2 – promote “skills gap” programs with guidance counsellors 

A lot of guidance counsellors in schools are not from technical backgrounds such as computer science and software engineering. Due to the idea that it is only natural to teach what you know, a lot of guidance counsellors do not steer students in the direction of information technology, software engineering, machinery, manufacturing, robot design or any number of a new industry 4.0 technology niches.  Promoting the “technology skills gap” style programs and options with counsellors would be a good step. 

Skills Gap Solution #3 – add responsibility for student success as part of the financing contract for studies

Colleges do not earn money from student success onboarding into a great career, they earn it from student enrolment into their educational programs.  This means that there is no shared responsibility or shared risk between the college and the student for the outcome of their joint training endeavour.  The student and their family bears the financing risk for their education and their career success, while the employer and the colleges profit from the gains. One good step would be to add responsibility for student career success as part of the financing contract for studies, to the college business model.

Skills Gap Solution #4 – motivation for up-skilling enhances job security

Up-skilling should enhance job performance, and therefore, should increase job security.  Companies should also place a higher value on well rounded employees.

Skills Gap Solution #5 – use remote work to overcome geographical barriers

Some companies are increasing the flexibility behind some of their HR policies, such as allowing for remote work to be done where it is possible to do so.  Remote work possibility has the effect of removing some of the geographic limitations that some workers face when they cannot relocate, but have the skills which a company needs.

Skills Gap Solution #6 – adopt stackable credentials

Stackable credentials are a type of credential that is achieved by taking one or more previous foundational credentials and “stacking” or “bridging” all the way to a superior credential. Stackable credentials can break down big credentials into a smaller sequence of units which can be achieved individually, and which have value on their own. For example, a student can pursue an introductory certificate to get an insight into a profession.  Having this foundational knowledge base and insight, the employer then has an easier time to onboard a new employee into an entry level position. From there, the new employee has chance to impress their employer to the point where they may be able to negotiate some tuition assistance.  Additionally, with the fact that part of the work has already been done, the student may be able to finish the superior credential even while they are also working. 

Skills Gap Solution #7 – use MOOCs to bridge the gap between educators and companies

Companies have shown a willingness to partner on “leading edge” (prestigious schools) online educational initiatives, more-so than with colleges offering traditional “in-person” educational programs.  MOOC initiatives like edX and Coursera showcase this idea, how non-profits, private training providers, colleges, and corporations are all partnering towards the same goal of solving the skills gap.

Skills Gap Solution #8 – fund education that addresses the Skills Gap

Addressing the skill gap may involve using good research to identify the “work majors” (most likely STEM) in demand, and helping to steer funds to those areas so as to attract more enrolments in those areas.  Distributing funds to all majors equally when there are “deficits and surpluses of workers” relating to the different majors, would not make sense.

Skills Gap Solution #9 – see the value in online courses 

The perception of online schooling has changed. Workers now recommend to each other quick MOOC style online training for insight and knowledge into how professions work.  After taking such training, the workers have a better handle on the work tasks potentially required and therefore a greater chance of success in any new work role.  Employers are seeing the online training as valuable, and this is a big change as online training was once seen as second rate and inferior to in person schooling.  Seeing online training as more valuable is a great solution to the skills gap, as the training enhances the number of people qualified and ready to enter job roles.

Skills Gap Solution #10 – invest in technology education

The technology skills gap would be narrowed if investments in science, technology, engineering, and math at the college level were increased.  Also, another good idea would be to deeply integrate computer science into the K-12 system.  Currently, 34 states have a light computer science framework.  Investing in technology education, instead of diversifying the investments across all educational options, would be a more specific, targeted and effective approach for narrowing the technological skills gap.

Skills Gap Solution #11 – increase internal company training

Employers have to react fast when a critical and highly skilled employee leaves the company.  It turns out that this happens often, and it can leave projects and plans hanging.  Employers can find themselves continually reacting to a workforce that is continually turning over.  Wouldn’t it be easier to just have loyal employees that are less likely to leave? Wouldn’t employee loyalty increase if their up-skilling and talent building needs were met? By increasing internal company training, companies improve the employee’s feelings of job security, the employee’s feelings of their own competency and the employee’s feelings of loyalty towards their employer.  Correspondingly, employers would have their highly specialized needs met by longer term tenure employees who are very familiar with company practices, company products, and company methods.

Skills Gap Solution #12 – create internship placements

The best preparation that a student can have for a job, is to actually spend time in the work environment via an “internship placement”.  Companies may not believe that they have time to manage interns, but the time lost in directing an intern should be considered a cost effective internal training program as well as a more effective recruitment program.

Skills Gap Solution #13 – transfer knowledge from retirees to incoming employees

Implementing workforce development programs should be done even if they are difficult to budget for.  It is more cost efficient and effective to transfer the knowledge from a retiree close to retirement to a new worker, then it is to hire private mentors and private trainers later on when the skilled retiree is gone.

Skills Gap Solution #14 – flexibility to hire based on competencies

Hiring only based on a simple math calculation of the “years of experience” per position ignores talented individuals that exist with strong competencies in various skillsets which have not had access to gain “years of experience”. This narrows down the selection choice to fewer competitors, and reduces the overall skill availability to the company.

Skills Gap Solution #15 – invest and adopt automation

Companies should adopt automation into their workflow.  Automation will reduce the need for skilled employees in job roles that may be difficult to find workers in.  Additionally, automation technologies should enhance the productivity of employees using them.  In the manufacturing industry, automation can replace work that is mechanistically highly redundant and inefficient for a human to do.

Skills Gap Solution #16 – increase #’s through affordability

Increasing the cost efficiency of the often expensive college and university training establishments should be priority number one.  The more affordable the education is, the more people that will enrol and the greater the likelihood that they will be able to afford to complete what they started.  Consequently, the more people that finish high level training, then the more abundance of highly skilled and confident workers will exist in the economy. With greater numbers, a greater proportion of the skills gaps will be closed. 

Skills Gap Solution #17 – make partnerships with industry

Companies have reduced the amount of capital which they allocate towards training expenditures due to the slimmer profit margin environment brought about by fierce global competition with other organizations.  This reduction in the ability to train workers in-house makes it even more critical to partner with local colleges. Companies are increasingly reliant the college system for an adequately trained workforce.   This greater reliance on college for specialized training means that it becomes even more critical for companies to transfer the required labour market insight and specialized company specific knowledge to the colleges so that unique, varied, and up to date information can be packaged within effectively designed courses.

Case Study #1:  Siemens advertised their interest for workers with high level manufacturing skills in Charlotte, N.C. in 2008. The Central Piedmont Community College responded.  Instead of simply posting the job opportunity information on a job board within the hallways of the school and leaving it at that, they could have gone one step above that and worked with the students directly to send out employment application packages (cover letter, resume, transcripts) to the opportunities. But the college went two steps above the typical response. They sent instructors to Siemens in Germany to learn and gain certification on the advanced manufacturing processes specific to the company. The instructors brought the knowledge back to the college and a new program was created; “Associate Degree in Applied Science in Mechatronics” as per the requirements specification of Siemens.  

Case Study #2: AT&T partnered with Georgia Tech for the development of an online Masters Degree in Computer Science which was based on an efficient MOOC design.  AT&T also partnered with Udacity online educational platform, and released specialized “nano-degree” programs that were design to train for different technical roles and/or specialized “Industry 4.0” technical skills.  Once efficiently designed, technically appropriate and efficiently delivered technical programs were in place, and it was guaranteed to contain the right information required by the company, AT&T spent more than $250 million in tuition assistance for employees to up-skill on this platform.

Case Study #3:  Coursera is a new private educational platform that hosts MOOC style courses and certificate programs in addition to “career focused” and “high-ranking” online Masters degrees. Google recently partnered with Coursera to launch “Professional Certificates” for key information technology roles as; User Experience, Project Manager and IT Support.  Google will consider these certificates as a valid prerequisite for employment at their company, and will even waive the requirement of a full, four year degree, if a worker presents the completion of one of their certificates.  Ultimately, it is the three way partnership of Google, Coursera (MOOC provider) and college that could create a complete training pathway.

The process of making courses and programs is not one that can be done in isolation by an educational institution. There are elements that have to be brought into the course making process from the real world, and this involves many diverse educator-employer partnerships with educational institutions and many companies from many sectors within the economy.  Companies have a responsibility to their shareholders, to achieve success in their mandate.  As part of this responsibility, workers must be successful in their role, and workers cannot be successful if they do not practice similar work tasks within an educational establishment before they get to their actual work placement.

Skills Gap Solution #18 – find a way to raise wages now or later

There are two common reasons as to why workers quit and look for employment with other companies.  First, workers may not be satisfied with the pay they are receiving. Second, workers may not be certain as to whether or not a clear pathway to advance exists. The first problem is difficult to address for many modern companies because global competition has reduced the profit margins to such a degree that it has become difficult if not impossible to pay a good wage to all of the workers. If it is not possible to raise wages, then attempting to solve the second problem becomes key to the retention of employees. One could make sure to discuss and plan advancement pathways for deserving employees, as this can at least provide the hope and the expectation of a higher wage at some point in the future.

Skills Gap Solution #19 – drop the “perfect candidate” philosophy

Companies should drop the long list of requirements that make up their idea of the “perfect candidate”.  This notion of perfection often leads to long term vacancies that end up reducing the productivity of the company and costing far more than if a lesser qualified candidate had been employed throughout the entire time. Companies would be more successful in hiring and operations if they also hired for attitude, academic skills, social skills and general skills. The reason the “perfect candidate” notion exists has to do with the idea that it would require no training to accept such a candidate on to the team, so that if the worker were to leave for another company, then there would be no “investment in training” to be lost.  The key to solving this issue is to find, build or use training that is so inexpensive, that offering it to a newer and lesser qualified worker,  would create no risk for the company.  Any “investment in training” that is taken with the worker to another employer wouldn’t have cost very much to begin with.

Skills Gap Solution #20 – enter the trades

Trades workers were perceived as a lower level occupation than college trained workers for a long time.  However, these perceptions are changing due to an acknowledgement of the reality of the changing economic landscape.  Jobs in the trades such as carpenter, plumber, and electricians pay exceptionally well as compared to many technology jobs such as “technology article writer”, “content marketing specialist” and “social media manager”.  Often, many tech workers start their careers at poor tech start-ups, whereas the trades people are often either self-employed (being able to charge what they desire) or they work for a larger construction firm.  Trades also has a very highly effective and advanced apprenticeship based training system, whereas IT workers must bridge the gap on their own, even directly into advanced and experienced roles.

Skills Gap Solution #21 – invest in higher wages

Increase wages. Offer signing bonuses.

4. CONCLUSION

collaboration

Everyone can agree that the current education system has not solved the skills gap problem in its entirety, and that this problem if is allowed to continue, will reduce the ability of America to compete on the global stage. The skills gap in America is a problem that education establishments and companies can solve, but solving it will require a few more steps. Fortunately, the steps are obvious and the solutions are equally as direct.  

Simply put, the two main actors in the skills economy are the workers and the companies.  The companies should admit that the educational establishments do not have a clear insight into their company specific processes, and as such, should take some responsibility to treating the educational establishments in a similar way to how they treat any other supplier of critical resources. The companies should partner with educational establishments and provide the right information such that coursework and program design is done appropriately within educational establishments. Further, companies should invest in training and development for their workers within the actual work environment, perhaps doing so with innovative and inexpensive training processes now widely available.

As for education establishments, these institutions must become more comfortable with reaching out and engaging with industry, even if it means actively sending out instructors to engage within different work roles. By connecting with companies and bringing back critical work related information to the school environment, schools will no longer be isolated from the economy and will no longer have to guess course curriculums.   Education establishments must not be worried with the idea that the purpose of education is to connect the students to an available work position in society.    Education establishments must help to steer students to specialized in demands fields where the biggest skills gaps exist, such as; engineering, information technology, healthcare and trades.

Both education establishments and companies need to engage this problem from both sides, if we hope to have a chance at solving the skills gap.

Go to our home page https://skillsgaptrainer.com or go directly to our course platform https://skills-gap-trainer.thinkific.com/