Skills Shortage Remains: How Are We Going to Bridge this Gap?

Skills Shortage Remains: How Are We Going to Bridge this Gap?

Emily Smykal

Just how real is the skills shortage in the U.S. labor market? We came across a concerning statistic the other day from Indeed. The number of job postings looking for Java skills is 5 times greater than the number of searches for jobs requiring that skill.

Consider a few other statistics. The number of people with a bachelor’s degree increased 44% from 2003 to 2012, going from 3.4 million to 4.9 million. But as of 2012, 44% of workers ages 22 to 27 with a bachelor’s degree or higher were employed in jobs that did not require a college degree. Yet in some occupations, the demand for college-educated employees is 30-40% higher than the number of available workers with a college degree.

If you’re thinking these numbers don’t add up, you’re not alone. Colleges and universities are producing more graduates than ever, but those qualifications are not aligning with the skills and knowledge employers look for in a candidate. To investigate the skills gap, CareerBuilder conducted a nationwide study among employers, academics, and job seekers (employed, underemployed and unemployed). Their report released in late 2014, The Shocking Truth About The Skills Gap, found evidence from all three groups to support a concerning disparity between candidates and job openings.

Among employers in the survey, 52% reported unfilled vacancies due to unqualified applicants. The job seekers in the report recognized the same problem, but from a different perspective. When asked what is causing the skills gap, 55% blamed education gaps and 53% cited a lack of on the job training. So what’s causing the skills gap, and what can we do about it? In this post we’ll discuss the skills shortage from the perspectives of candidates and employers, and consider ways to overcome such a widespread problem.

The Skills Candidates Think They’re Getting

Before they even get to the workforce, young adults must complete high school, and in many cases feel the need to achieve a bachelor’s degree as well. The benefits of higher education have been well documented, but the prevailing attitude is that simply having the letters BA or BS on your resume does little to guide young workers into a successful career path. In fact, according to the CareerBuilder survey, only 25% of job seekers said they received some career counseling while in high school. And 41% admitted they wished they had been given more guidance.

Many students enter college, and later the workforce, with little to no knowledge of the entry-level jobs that await them. And they often choose a major based on emotions and personal preferences rather than career prospects. In the 2011-2012 school year, the most bachelor’s degrees completed were in business (367,000), social sciences and history (179,000), health professions and related programs (163,000), psychology (109,000), and education (106,000).

According to the CareerBuilder study, 50% of employers felt applicants lacked many necessary job-specific skills. But over 60% of job seekers expected those same skills to be acquired on the job. Clearly there is a disparity between what employers expect applicants to achieve on their own, and what applicants expect employers to provide after they finish their chosen degree.

The Skills Employers Think They Need

Perhaps one of the most surprising statistics from the CareerBuilder survey was that 61% of employers have hired someone who did not meet all the requirements for a job. Considering the growing number of higher education degrees conferred, it is debatable whether all of these under-qualified hires resulted from a lack of skills among applicants, or unnecessarily high job requirements.

In a process known as “upcredentialing,” positions that were previously filled by workers without college degrees, are now advertised as requiring a bachelor’s or higher, in addition to more specific skills. Administrative assistants, computer support specialists, construction supervisors, and many more jobs can no longer offer a pathway into the middle class for many workers without college degrees.

This preference for higher credentials has led to a gap between job postings and workers. Among computer support specialist jobs, for example, 39% of existing employees in that field have a bachelor’s degree, but 60% of open jobs for the same roles require a degree. Looking at overall entry level jobs, 48% requiring a bachelor’s degree or higher are in STEM, but just 29% of bachelor’s graduates receive a STEM degree. This means there are 2.5 entry-level openings for each new graduate from a STEM bachelor’s program.

The emphasis on bachelor’s degrees also leads to a troubling side effect–increases in time to fill. The average time to fill reached a record 29 days in July 2015, but this figure can be even higher among open positions mandating a bachelor’s degree. Analytics firm Burning Glass Technologies found that a construction supervisor position requiring a BA averages 61 days to fill, while postings that don’t ask for a BA take just 28.

Bridging the Skills Gap Through Education

Few people would dispute the existence of a skills shortage today, but treating it as a nationwide problem requiring a blanket solution will do little to improve the gap. For instance, in manufacturing we have more than a skills gap, it’s also a branding and image problem. The U.S. economy consists of a wide variety of industries across diverse regions, employing workers of all kinds. Job seekers, academics and employers must come together to find solutions for disparities within each industry and in every field of study.

A great place to start would be within academic institutions, before young adults even reach the workplace. According to CareerBuilder, 96% of academic respondents agreed that it’s important to communicate with potential employers about their offerings, to understand the skills they look for in entry-level candidates. And two-thirds of academics have begun the process of changing their curriculum to reflect local employer demands.

Ensuring students enroll in programs that best prepare them for available jobs is crucial, but it’s not something students can do alone. Adapting post secondary programs to shifts in the labor market, providing more job-related skills on campus, reducing the stigma around technical training and apprenticeships, and counseling students on successful career choices will go a long way towards narrowing the current skills gap.

Interested in learning more about what it takes to build a modern candidate experience? Check out our new “9-Point Checklist for Building a Next-Generation Candidate Experience.”

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