Finding The Key To The Skills Gap

Why is there a “skills gap” – employers are having difficulties placing employees while so many professionals are seeking employment? Is there a problem with our traditional college degree? Are employers unwilling to invest enough in onboarding and training?  I read a Forbes article, Can We Fix The Skills Gap?, where Dennis Yang presents the problem – “72 percent of educational institutions believe recent graduates are ready for work, only 42 percent of employers agree” – and then proposes his solution – “job seekers need to step in and take skill development and education into their own hands (employers guide them on the skills they will need)”.[1]  Of course, this is exactly what is proposed in the planning and building stages of a skills-based approach.

Skills Gap
Skills Gap (c) Original Image Depositphotos/alexskopje

Mr. Yang talks about how companies should post job requirements explicitly, even to the point of matching them with “a playlist of courses required to prepare for the job”. This is a move in the right direction, however, job preparedness should not be limited to taking online courses – especially when young professionals lack technical skills. Young professionals need to tune their skills and the various methods in applying skills, so interning, volunteering, or taking on a project might be more effective than exclusively taking courses. And employers are not off the hook for providing proper training and onboarding, where there is interactive learning, mentoring, and team building exercises.

Once employed, Mr. Yang says supervisors should work with their employees as they build their skills. With a skills-based approach, I call this “setting the stage”, where a new employee and manager act proactively by communicating their expectations in the beginning. Then through assessments plan how to move forward with the development of skills.

I agree with Mr. Yang that career responsibilities are constantly changing because of the rapid adoption of new technology and globalization. This makes it challenging for professionals to remain prepared. I think you should commit to developing a skill set throughout your career, and as technical skills change, you find ways to learn them. However, I also think employers must commit to training technical skills.

A typical college degree is changing as more of them require participating in internships and experiential learning programs – effective ways to learn new technologies. So the traditional college degree is transforming.

Employers should evaluate job candidates on not only technical skills, but also transferable skills. They should consider how much of an investment it would take to train a candidate to learn necessary technical skills. The investment might be less costly than conducting an extensive search for the perfect candidate. Moreover, when you teach employees a technical skill, you teach them your preferred method in applying a skill (i.e. how to write a memo/brief or program a function).

Here are some hypothetical examples of what an employer expects from a new employee (where there might be a skills gap):

  • A graduate with an economics degree. We need for you to transform a large dataset into a MS Excel pivot table and create charts. Can you conceptualize what needs to be done and utilize MS Excel?
  • A graduate with a computer science degree. We have a web interface built with ASP .Net, using a MVC framework. Are you familiar with the fundamentals of MVC?
  • A graduate with an information systems degree. We need for you to interact with our client on a regular basis regarding the project your team is working on. Once a week send a memo summarizing the status of the project, and every other day send an email about what each teammate is currently working on. Are you comfortable in drafting professional memos and emails?

There are a few things in motion to help address the skills gap. The president is suggesting a higher education ranking system whereby universities and colleges get ranked based on their graduates finding employment. This helps parents and incoming students understand the ROI of universities and colleges and influences the higher education system to get their graduates employed. Many organizations are offering skill assessments for young professionals which have three intended purposes. First, graduates understand their “critical thinking skills” as they enter the job market. Second, colleges can use the results to construct their curriculum.  Third, professionals can utilize various learning channels (such as MOOCs) to build skills and by taking a standardized test, similar in structure to the SAT, their skills can be assessed. Getting college credit for a MOOC becomes less relevant.


[1]  Dennis Yang. “Can We Fix The Skills Gap,” Forbes, August 2, 2013, http://tinyurl.com/nxqqajw

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