When technology changes, it doesn’t just affect the tech industry – it affects every industry. Technology is altering the very nature of our jobs by changing the way we communicate with each other, the way we organize our work activities, and the way we approach our rapidly shifting job responsibilities. One estimate suggests that 65% of children entering school today will work in jobs that do not yet exist, and we’re already witnessing a lot of that change right before our eyes.
The “Skills Gap”
These shifts are keenly felt by employers across nearly every industry through what is called the “skills gap.” The skills gap is a mismatch between the skills that employers are looking for in job candidates, and the skills that applicants actually possess. This mismatch is exacerbated by rapid changes in technology.
Let’s look at one example: installers of home security systems. These technicians install equipment in people’s homes, and they have a lot of knowledge and skills around how to install the current, most popular systems on the market. But when new tech-enabled alarms or smart security systems start gaining popularity, most technicians won’t know how to install them. Then, when companies try to find candidates who have experience installing the latest and greatest new systems, they’re going to come up short over and over again.
We’re hearing this same story play out in so many industries. The current workforce is used to working with the current software, the current programming language, the current machines, the current platform – and then the technology changes, and companies are left needing skills that don’t exist yet.
Closing the Gap with Training and Assessments
This doesn’t mean that there aren’t great workers out there to do the work. People aren’t born with skills – they learn them through 1) experience and 2) training. When experience isn’t there, companies must turn to training to fill in the gaps. Especially when we’re talking about brand new technologies, a solid training program is absolutely essential.
But training can be expensive. The biggest risk is that you hire a group of inexperienced workers, put them through several weeks of training, and then come to find that 50% or less of them end up successfully completing training. This is where you need to rely on the hiring process to make sure you’re bringing in the people who are most likely to pick up on the new skills.
When we’re talking about learning new skills, what we’re really looking for in a candidate is the ability to learn quickly, think critically, and solve problems.
One way to get a really accurate read on a candidate’s learning ability is by testing for cognitive aptitude. Cognitive aptitude assessments provide a way to measure someone’s general intelligence, particularly in terms of the ability to learn new things. If someone does well on a cognitive aptitude test, they’re likely to pick up new skills fairly easily, whether or not they have prior experience. In fact, cognitive aptitude tests are significantly more predictive of job performance than actual work experience is – three times as predictive, to be specific.
Another important element in the hiring process is to revisit your job descriptions to make sure your requirements are realistic. Don’t ask for 10 years of experience with a certain programming language when it’s only been around for 5 years! (Yes, we've seen this in many job descriptions before). Make sure you know what you’re asking, because if that thing truly doesn’t exist, your applicant pool size will suffer as well.
The skills gap is no small problem in today’s hiring market, but that doesn’t mean companies have to give up on finding solid employees. Employers need to first be willing to consider candidates with no experience but high potential, and then let the training programs do the rest of the work.