Is the U.S. currently facing a skills gap? That depends on who you ask.

While plenty of research lands solidly in the ‘affirmative’, not everyone is convinced. According to Wharton School economist Peter Cappelli, “The only evidence of the skills gap is employers saying, ‘I’ve got a problem.” 

Let’s take a closer look at the question of whether the skills gap really exists, and what today’s organizations need to know in order to survive and thrive.

About the Skills Gap

The American Society for Training and Development (ASTD) defines the skills gap as “the gap between an organization’s current capabilities and the skills it needs to achieve its goals.” Unfortunately, a skills gap can be deeply detrimental to a company’s bottom line as well as to the entire country’s ability to stay competitive in the global marketplace.

The Research Is In

The current combination of relatively high unemployment rates and five million job openings makes for an interesting juxtaposition. While some detractors argue that this “crisis” is less attributable to a mismatch in needs/skills and more attributable to the natural movement of the economy, Accenture’s “Skills and Employment Trends Survey: Perspectives on Training,” offers some concrete evidence of the phenomenon at work.

Let’s take a closer look at some key findings:

  • Nearly half of all U.S. executives at large firms’ express concerns that they won’t have access to the skill sets they need in the immediate years ahead.
  • 66 percent of companies anticipating a skills gap also anticipate losses in business; 64 percent face revenue losses; and 59 percent expect declining customer satisfaction.
  • More than 50 percent of companies facing a skills gap say the talent shortfall will cause product and service development delays.
  • The skills gap isn’t just stressing organizations, but also workers who experience pressure resulting from their employer’s inability to hire and train co-workers with the necessary skills.
  • Of all executives anticipating a skills shortfall, the most sought-after skills include IT, engineering, R&D and sales.

In an interesting twist on these statistics, The Udemy Skills Gap Index reveals that of the 61 percent of Americans who believe that a skills gap exists, a whopping 95 percent think the problem doesn’t apply to them — that they are personally either qualified or overqualified for their current positions.

Not only that, but while half of Americans think their college degrees helped them get their jobs, a full third believe that they actually use less than 10 percent of their college learnings in the workforce. While this makes for confusion when it comes to understanding the skills gap, it doesn’t mean that there aren’t clear-cut ways to counter the trend.

Hiring for the Skills Gap

Employers don’t have to sit back and watch the qualified talent pool dwindle. In fact, many are stepping up with innovative ways to recruit, train and retain bright talent. According to Accenture, 35 percent of those currently facing a shortage cited past failures to invest in training as a contributing factor, while 51 percent are amping up their investment in training programs, including increasingly diverse approaches such as mobile delivery, social media, and massive open online course (MOOCs). Some are even turning to gamification to keep employees engaged.

Another telling dichotomy: while a full 72 percent of employers cited training as the leading way to help employees develop new and necessary skills, just 52 percent of workers believe their companies are actually investing in formal training. This is where HR agents have a powerful opportunity to establish their businesses and brands as organizations fall into this narrow majority.

Recruiting can also play a valuable role by creating a pipeline/talent network — both internal and external — ensuring that when organizations do need a specific skill set, the odds are high that it will be readily available to them.

The truth is that while plenty of evidence points toward a skills gap, an equal number of authorities counter this evidence with hard and fast proof of their own. Luckily, adapting your recruiting methods and HR practices to focus on helping candidates develop these sought-after skills is a win-win in either scenario.

To leverage your recruiters and employees’ personal networks to reach potential candidates faster, watch this video on how WittyParrot can help.

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