Bridging the Skills Gap

In today’s working world, the skills gap is a major concern for employers. Essentially, the skills gap refers to the difference between the skills required for a job and those possessed by the applicant. Companies are facing an incoming workforce that does not have the skills necessary to take the reins from those employees before them. Further, companies are finding it difficult to equip new employees with the necessary skills.

The skills gap is occurring for any number of reasons. Frederick Brookhouse, the business and education partnership manager at Snap-on, says that the gap might begin during early education, when children begin seeking “what they want to be when they grow up.” Snap-on, a manufacturer of tools, equipment, and systems solutions, feels the gap most when they are trying to fill their technical positions. Brookhouse suggests that from an early age, parents are discouraging their children’s interest in a technical trade, favoring other careers, such as one in the medical field, widening the gap in candidates’s technical skills.

Others say the gap has been caused by education itself. Adam Wiedmer, sourcing director at Seven Step RPO, a professional services corporation, points out the inequality between the degrees being received by students and the in-demand industries currently scouring the market for skilled job seekers: “Psychology, history, and performing arts account for 22 percent of degrees earned in the U.S., but the corresponding professions don’t appear in any top rankings for labor demand. Of the top majors granted in the U.S., only 5 percent fall within the high-demand areas of engineering and technology.”

So, how are companies going about conquering the skills gap? A number of different approaches have been tried, and many more are being suggested.

Brookhouse suggests that companies need to actively collaborate with higher education institutions. This way, companies like Snap-on can communicate to the powers at colleges exactly the kind of skills they are looking for in future candidates. Colleges interested in helping their students become employed upon completing their degrees are likely to, or should, listen.

The state of Maine has taken another approach. Both government and non-governmental organizations have taken it upon themselves to help current college students and those wishing to complete degrees in order to improve their skills. A piece of proposed legislation supports “creating at the Maine Community College System new degree programs in high-demand, high-wage sectors, and… establishing a scholarship program in the University of Maine System to help adults with prior educational credits return to the university to complete their degrees.” The goal is to help as many people as possible achieve post-secondary education so that those jobs requiring a degree—which are rapidly increasing in number—can be filled.

The onus for creating a highly skilled workforce also falls to employers. Tracy McCarthy, Chief Human Resource Officer of SilkRoad, says that companies should challenge the status quo of their current program for new hires and assess the training that they offer both new and current employees. If employees can be found with the aptitude for a certain position, the company can turn their basic skills into the necessary skills to do the job well.

All of these suggestions, however, do not mean that there is not responsibility left to the employee. As individuals who want to be hired into good positions, they should own the education they need to get there. Once in a job, they should own the process of personal development that will help them move up the ladder and increase their skills.

The skills gap is not likely to go away soon, but educational institutions, employers, and employees all have a responsibility to begin closing it in order for everyone to look towards a brighter future.

What are you and your organization doing to bridge the skills gap? Leave us a comment below.

IMAGE: Courtesy of Flickr by paul bica