The Skills Gap

photo courtesy of Wikimedia commons

photo courtesy of Wikimedia commons

Have you heard of the “skills gap”? Recently, while researching and writing content for some business blogs, I found the discussion of the skills gap particularly interesting—the disconnect that employers complain exists between skills needed in the workforce and the education students are receiving. Employers complain that they get a landslide of resumes, but a large number of job applicants lack the necessary skills. According to Online Colleges, a resource for online education, our government is looking at a variety of ways to subsidize colleges and universities on the condition that academic programs better reflect job market trends. Good? Bad? Both?

With the economic downturn and reduced number of jobs, a student’s chosen field of study probably matters more now than ever. Many people with expensive liberal arts degrees are finding it difficult to get decent jobs (which makes me extremely sad). I’m all for the practical fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), but our society needs to be well rounded, doesn’t it? Little bit practical, little bit creative.

Management professor and director of Wharton’s Center for Human Resources Peter Cappelli says employers now look at filling a job like buying a spare part. They expect the person to fit exactly without much investment in training. He also mentions that automation has made the hiring process easier and cheaper for companies, but if an applicant doesn’t use the right keywords and exact titles in writing job descriptions, they may get nixed, even if perfect for the job.

This sounds very faceless…and conforming. Is it me, or is that ironic? We’re always talking about thinking outside the box. But seems that a lot of times, we pretty much just like to put a checkmark in it and align it nicely with the others.

Another interesting point that Cappelli makes is that when pressed for details, employers often list “character issues” like punctuality and motivation as a greater deficiency than technical skills and education. Aha! Human factors. Something a computer couldn’t be the best judge in determining. We need face time. Time to grow and hone our unique gifts. I obviously don’t have the answers (or else I’d be getting paid the big bucks), but as you probably know already, I’m a firm believer in gaining early hands-on experience by volunteering or doing internships, which is basically the same thing—one just more formal and businesslike than the other.

True, certain fields are practical and have higher earning potential—and if you love them because that’s where your passion is? Full on great. But those in the arts and social sciences are still needed. Where would we be without those who love history and culture, and write it all down for the generations to come?

Where is the balance? Any ideas?

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11 comments on “The Skills Gap

  1. Interesting post, Marney. very insightful. I worked in human resources for several years and found that the human factors (punctuality, motivation, integrity, diligence, etc.) are more likely to lead to a successful work experience for both sides than skills. I can teach the skills to do the job. I can’t teach integrity. I can only model it and hope the employee gets it.

    • I wish more employers viewed it like you do, Henry. When the professor, Peter Cappelli said they view people like spare parts that should fit exactly, it really got to me. Trying to take all the humanness out. But of course, that never works.

  2. Interesting blog post today, Marney. I have a friend who’s been under-employed for quite a while — and been struggling with the whole automated process. He’s been kicked out of the process for jobs he’s qualified for — in the field he’s working now. The anonymity of it all is so frustrating. And how to get around it is a huge question. Personal recommendations help, but you don’t always have those.

  3. I agree that interning or volunteering aids in understanding all aspects of a job – things a textbook can’t teach. Two internships I did in college really helped me eliminate several career choices I was ready to dive into. I was very fortunate for the opportunity to narrow my options more wisely. Overall, internships can be a win-win for both the employer and the intern.

    • Wish internships were feasible later in life, too. But we all have lots of responsibilities by then that don’t allow that leeway as often. Bummer. But at least we can call it “volunteering” and gain new experience.

      Glad that your internships really helped direct you early on, Marie. That’s a blessing.

  4. Thank you for this. This is every frustration I’ve faced since entering the job market post-college graduation. So much of the focus is on STEM degrees, but I believe that you can’t have a stable, productive society without arts and languages and social sciences.
    I am thankful that my theatre degree is versatile to an extent – I can use skills that I learned in theatre and apply them to many different jobs. The problem is convincing employers of that.

    • It’s sad that so many employers have such a narrow view. I’m sure we all know lots of people who aren’t working in their majors or area of study, but have been very successful. That seems to have been forgotten.

  5. I agree with Henry that human skills and attitude are far better predictors of performance than academic certificates. What frustrates me now as a parent watching my adult child enter the workforce is that employers now expect employees to come fully formed. Even jobs described as ‘entry level’ or ‘junior’ require experience. Isn’t that an oxymoron?

  6. This outlook makes me sad, as well. I am currently looking for a job again, but graduated from university almost 4 years ago. Within the past 4 years, I’ve been gainfully employed in many different fields but still have to face downturn and not being invited to an interview because the job market in NY is very competitive. If you’re overqualified for what you are looking for or seeking to switch careers – it’s pretty much the same outlook as being a recent college grad with almost no professional experience.

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