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?