SKILLS GAP

February 26, 2020


If you read literature regarding the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics), you know that the United States has a definite “skills gap”.  The skills gap refers to the difference between skills required for a job and the skills an employee actually possesses. Because of the skills gap, employee might not be able to perform the complete job.  According to the Progressive Policy Institute, “Those who have never worked in the private sector might be forgiven for being skeptical about the existence of a skills shortage. But employers know that America has a significant skills gap – one that is growing with each passing month. And you won’t find many skill gap skeptics among underemployed workers, particularly Millennials.

 America’s economy has digitized over the past decade and our legacy infrastructure – postsecondary education institutions and workforce development boards – have not come close to keeping up. Moreover, the digitization of the economy has also changed hiring practices, with real implications for our workforce.”

 There can be no question that American employers have a record number of unfilled jobs. For the past year, the number has hovered around seven (7) million.  As of early January 2019, the number reported by the U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) was six point nine (6.9) million.  When you think about it, this is a huge number—HUGE.   If we take a look at possible causes, we see the following:

  • THE DIGITAL SKILLS GAP— The World Economic Forum found only twenty-seven (27%) percent of small companies and twenty-nine (29%) percent of large companies believe they have the digital talent they require. Three quarters of Business Roundtable CEOs say they can’t find workers to fill jobs in STEM-related fields.  Deloitte in the United Kingdom has found that only twenty-five (25%) percent of “digital leaders” believe their workforce is sufficiently skilled to execute their digital strategy. Another survey found eighty (80% percent of executives highly concerned about a digital skills gap. And for the first time in recent memory, in May, August, and September 2018, the TechServe Alliance, the national trade association of technology staffing and services companies, reported no tech job growth in the U.S. According to TechServe Alliance CEO Mark Roberts, “this is totally a supply side phenomenon. There are simply not enough qualified workers to meet demand.”
  • THE SOFT-SKILLS GAP— Behind digital skills, as evidenced by job descriptions, employers care a great deal about a second set of skills: soft skills like teamwork, communication, organization, creativity, adaptability, and punctuality. Employers want workers who will show up on time and focus on serving customers rather than staring at their phones. They need employees who are able to get along with colleagues, and take direction from supervisors – a particular challenge for headstrong Millennials. But soft skills aren’t screened at the top of the hiring funnel. Employers aren’t likely to list “willingness to take direction” or “humility” as skills in job descriptions. And the soft skills that are listed aren’t readily assessable from résumés. So soft skills are evaluated further down the hiring funnel, via interviews – and long after the initial screen (primarily on digital skills) has weeded out many candidates with strong soft skills. It’s no wonder employers don’t think candidates’ soft skills are up to snuff. In a LinkedIn study of hiring managers, fifty-nine (59%) percent said soft skills were difficult to find and this skill gap was limiting their productivity. A 2015 Wall Street Journal survey of nine hundred executives found that eighty-nine (89%) percent have a very or somewhat difficult time finding candidates with the requisite soft skills. One reason for the soft skills gap is that Millennials (and now Generation Z) have less exposure to paid work than prior generations. When older Americans were in high school, even if they weren’t working during the school years, they probably took summer jobs. Some worked in restaurants or painted houses, others mowed lawns or scooped ice cream. But in the summer of 2017, only forty-three (43% percent of 16-19-year-olds were working or seeking work – down from nearly seventy (70%) percent a generation ago. The Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts teen workforce participation will drop below twenty-seven (27% percent by 2024.

SOLUTIONS:  There are solutions or ideas about solutions to this demanding and very important problem.  Some of these are given with the graphic shown below.

  • Learning institutions and curriculum development
  • Apprenticeship programs
  • Assisting educational institutions with classroom instruction.

If we look at the graduate skills gap, we see how very important companies and other institutions regard the skills gap.  It will be a continuing problem until our country comes to its senses and addresses this critical problem.

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