What Skills Gap? Today’s Workers Are Taking Control of Their Future

What Skills Gap? Today’s Workers Are Taking Control of Their Future

Emily Smykal

For the average American worker, pressures to find and hold a good job can seem endless. Many companies have streamlined their workforces since the recession. Jobs that were lost have not simply been replaced. And the threat of automation is creeping into a growing number of careers.

But perhaps one of the biggest issues employees face is that of skills–having and learning the right skills to stay competitive in the job market. Employers large and small have complained of a skills shortage for years. And studies of workers, educators and employers demonstrate that the problem is real.

So it is encouraging to see new results from a Pew Research Center survey. They found that among working adults (full-time and part-time), 63% have made some effort in the last 12 months to improve their skills and knowledge. This included courses (online or in person), training sessions (in house or externally), and workshops, all to build on their existing skills or learn new ones. Employers should take note of the stats below, as it’s clear many workers are already doing their part to close the skills gap.

63% of working adults took part in some kind of professional learning in the last 12 months

As we mentioned, the majority of workers are enrolling in classes or attending workshops, all to upgrade their knowledge base. Employees are keenly aware of the changing skills required in the workplace today, and many are taking the proactive step to protect the jobs they have, or to prepare themselves for future roles.

Overall, 55% of respondents said they participated in professional learning to maintain or improve their skills

This shouldn’t come as a surprise to recruiters. Employees notice blaring headlines about the skills shortage, too, and may feel compelled to reevaluate their own skills as a result. Regardless of whether they’re happy in their current role or are looking for a new opportunity, workers recognize the value employers place on certain skills and knowledge.

36% of all workers said they were trying to get a license or certification required for their job

Many jobs or promotions within a role actually require additional training. Whether it’s licensing to handle a specific task, or certifications to demonstrate achievement and knowledge, this kind of professional development isn’t new. But it’s still important for recruiters and employers to communicate these opportunities to their workers. New methods of teaching skills, such as online courses (Coursera, Udacity, edX, etc.), are making it easier for more workers to add these skills to their resumes.

24% of workers said they wanted to get a raise or promotion at work through improved skills

Even if their employer doesn’t require a specific new license or skill, making these kinds of upgrades themselves is a great way for employees to get noticed. And they may not just be trying to attract the attention of their current employer. A further 13% admitted they were hoping to get a new job with a different employer.

And 7% of all workers said they were concerned about possible job cuts at their current organization.

65% of respondents said their professional development expanded their professional network

This may not strike recruiters as a primary goal of continuing education to build skills. But it makes sense. Workers who enroll in a course or attend a workshop are going to meet like-minded adults, pursuing similar goals in similar career paths. This may help motivate some workers to learn new skills, and can even lead to job opportunities that value those skills.

Another 47% said professional learning helped them advance within their current organization

This is probably the main result recruiters expect to hear from employees pursuing professional development. Forward-thinking workers will seek out learning opportunities that directly benefit their position within their organization. The Pew survey also revealed that 29% of respondents found a new job with their current employer or a new one after learning new skills, and 27% said it helped them consider a different career path.

More than half of all professional learners completed their job-related training in the workplace or online, or both

Pew asked respondents where they completed their professional development, allowing workers to choose more than one option. The workplace was chosen by 75%, and online was chosen by 55%. We don’t know how many of those workers were participating in employer-sponsored training programs at their office, or how many were surreptitiously completing online courses to appeal to a new employer. But considering how much time American workers spend in the workplace and online, it makes sense these would be the most popular choices to complete some professional development.

The skills gap is a problem for everyone to solve, and many workers are trying to do their part to upgrade the skills and knowledge they have for the evolving economy. Recruiters who can offer this kind of professional development should advertise it widely as part of their larger talent acquisition strategy. Top quality candidates are not just looking for a good job now, but one that will encourage their future growth. And recruiters who can’t advertise that type of offering should consider ways to partner with continuing education organizations, to outsource professional development. Otherwise they risk missing out on candidates, and could potentially lose current employees to businesses that offer more career development.

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