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Closing the Skills Gap

Written by Michelle Silverstein

For years, employers have struggled to find employees with the right skills, a problem aptly named the “skills gap.” There are many theories floating around to explain what has caused this perceived gap between the skills employers are hiring for and the skills that current job seekers have to offer. While this gap isn’t going away any time soon, companies can still take steps to reduce the impact of the skills gap within their own organization.

What Are Some Potential Causes of the Skills Gap?


1. Mismatch in Education

A large proportion of unemployed job seekers are newer to the workforce – millennial unemployment is stuck at around 13%, much higher than the national average of 4.9%.  This suggests a potential mismatch between the skills recent graduates are picking up in college and the skills that employers require for particular roles. This could be the result of a couple of factors. For some in-demand fields (like STEM), for example, there could be a shortage of students choosing to earn degrees in those subjects. Alternatively, colleges may not be offering enough technical skills training that graduates can immediately apply in the workplace.


 2. A lack of in-house training

While there’s not a whole lot companies can do about the skills job seekers learn in school, there are some changes companies can make internally to fill their open positions, particularly related to training programs. Research on the skills gap has found that many industries lack adequate on-the-job training, and that this may be a more recent phenomenon. For example, while 70-80% of U.S. manufacturing plants provided formal training to employees in the 1990s, only about half train their employees today. This reduction in training coincides with the rise of the “skills gap.”

The obvious solution is to implement more robust internal training programs. This is easier said than done, but companies can also supplement some of their training gaps by partnering with trade associations, technical colleges, and other academic institutions to help their employees get the skills they need.


 3. Employer “Pickiness”

It’s rare to find a candidate with the magic combination of skills needed for a job, and depending on how strict you are with your job requirements, you may never find enough applicants who fit the bill.  The answer isn’t to “lower your standards” but to start rethinking how you identify candidates with high potential in the first place. Start by identifying soft skills that candidates have (like trainability, communication skills, learning ability) and use those as a signal for future talent.


What can employers do?


The most obvious workaround employers can use to get their positions filled is to hire people who lack some of the required skills and then to make up for those missing skills with on-the-job training. In order for this tactic to work, however, you need to feel confident that these employees will be able to pick up the training and learn the job skills quickly.

That’s where additional filtering in the hiring process, such as pre-employment assessments, can have a major impact. Pre-employment tests, particularly cognitive aptitude and personality tests, provide a powerful signal of a person’s job potential, regardless of whether they already possess certain acquired skills. Cognitive aptitude, for instance, is the single best predictor of on-the-job performance because it helps to predict trainability, or how well a person can pick up new training. This is critical when hiring people who need to learn new skills. Personality tests, on the other hand, help to evaluate how comfortable or at ease a person will be in a particular position based on their personality traits, leading to improved performance and reduced turnover.

Pre-employment tests essentially enable you to rely on your training programs to create the skilled employees you need. Without training, you may never be able to get the right skillset you want, and without pre-employment tests, you wouldn’t be able to tell how likely someone would be to successfully complete training and adapt in their role. The skills gap may not be going away any time soon, but a combination of testing in the hiring process and training in the onboarding process can help you create the skilled workforce you’re looking for.  

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