Closing the Skills Gap: Addressing the Unqualified Candidate Pool

Remember the days (circa 2009) when you could publish a job opening and have dozens of qualified, hungry candidates vying for the opportunity to be interviewed?

Addressing the Skills Gap

A decade ago the employment landscape, and the economy as a whole, was completely different. Hundreds of thousands of talented professionals were thrust into the job market for one reason or another, and suddenly employers could fill positions with the best of the best. But those days are over. We’re operating in a whole new market.

On top of keeping your eyes and ears open for skilled candidates who may already be happily employed, it’s time we start thinking about what we can do to address the proverbial elephant in the room – the massive skills gap that’s holding America’s workforce back.

It’s more complicated than it seems at first glance

Are there good paying jobs available at virtually every level of the professional ladder? Absolutely. Are there qualified candidates to fill all those skilled positions? If you listen to the feedback of employers across the nation, the answer is a resounding no. And the lack of qualified candidates costs companies tens, if not hundreds, of thousands each year.

What’s creating the deficit and how can we fix it?

The same years that saw companies flush with qualified candidates combined with an aging population helped to fuel the employment market we’re struggling with now.

Employees who aged into the workforce in the last decade or found themselves thrust back into the open market have been faced with multiple challenges. They’ve been dogged by everything from fierce competition for jobs to lack of opportunity or availability of training and education. Not to mention the fear of sky-high student debt with no guarantee of employment and the increasing skill level required for many middle-class jobs.

All of these challenges and others combined to create a perfect storm; an ominous and large pool of unqualified candidates in the workforce.

It’s not that people don’t want to work. It’s that many of those who do and are still in the open market, are not qualified to take technical jobs which so desperately need to be filled. And while the qualified applicant pool dwindles, the economy continues to strengthen and the demand for a more educated workforce increases.

Potential solutions worth discussing at national and local levels

There’s no shortage of ideas for elevating the national candidate pool and increasing the qualifications of applicants within it. The struggle is in finding balance and creating an environment that supports both individuals within the workforce and employers.

If you want to continue down the rabbit hole and research this topic, I encourage you to do so, especially if your company has been personally affected. For the sake of time, I am going to focus on what our team at Coppertree sees as the most promising solutions.

How We Can Begin to Close the Skills Gap

Return vocational classes to high schools

High school is a prime opportunity to reach the younger generations and create a long-term solution that will help close the skills gap in the near future as well as prevent it from widening. Previously high schools put an emphasis on trades and technical knowledge, but due to budget cuts and shifting priorities, most have decreased, if not eliminated, their hands-on courses. Applied skills are still in demand, and revisiting our public education programs is the place to start.

Make technical post-graduation programs more widely available and accessible

Four-year schools and junior colleges are already beginning to address the growing need for technical and trades programs.  For the most part, schools in large cities have been the first to adapt. But the need must be more widely addressed.  People across the US, including less densely populated regions, need access to the same courses, whether they’re offered online or in-person.

Offset the cost of higher education with more work-study opportunities

Work study allows college & technical students to work part-time while they’re in school. While it’s not always a stand-alone solution, depending on the student’s circumstance, it’s still helpful and is part of the answer to closing the skills gap. Work study has a few advantages including providing an organic opportunity to build soft skills and allowing a student to earn while they learn, which can make college costs easier to navigate.

If more companies – particularly those in industries experiencing the sharpest decline of skilled candidates, offered work-study opportunities to students, they would give this solution even more appeal. Not only would these companies be helping the students, but they would also have access to candidates with the latest education in the field who are eager to put what they’ve learned into practice and embrace more hands-on training.

Don’t forget about soft skills

With the pressing demand for technical skills, it’s easy to overlook the importance of soft skills like professionalism, workplace communication, and tolerance. While it’s crucial that we address the glaring skills gap, we can’t forget also to train for and improve the soft skills that help candidates highlight their qualifications, communicate effectively, and contribute to a positive work environment.

Lastly, there needs to be a shift in our collective thinking. Maybe you’ve seen those Verizon commercials aimed at our youth. They center on the idea that we have made it more appealing and accessible to believe you will grow up to be an NBA superstar than to become an engineer or carpenter. Technical and trades jobs are nothing to shy away from. They may not be as glamorous as some other jobs that promise a huge starting salary, but they’re good jobs, and most can offer a comfortable living. This solution is one we can all participate in regardless of where we fall on the corporate spectrum.

Learn more about the current job market, strategies for finding the right candidates, and more on the blog.

 

The Unemployment Rate Continues to Drop, but You Can Still Find Great Candidates (if You Know Where to Look)

Pick the right partner in a tight job market

The U.S. Department of Labor has released another report summarizing the employment situation for March & April 2017. The overall unemployment rate continues to drop and has fallen another 0.2% to 4.5% overall.  The situation in the IT industry is even tighter – unemployment rates of 2.0% to 2.8% are the norm in major cities across the US.

While the numbers breakdown varies based on everything from gender and race to age, there’s no denying what those of us in the tech industry have been feeling for years – the pinch. The employment pool is getting tighter and tighter, and qualified candidates are getting harder to find. And it’s not because they aren’t out there. It’s because the vast majority of them are already employed.

Just Listing Jobs Won’t Cut It in This Tight Employment Market

There are a lot of ads these days for “supersites”, that promise to list your job on hundreds of web sites to expand your job’s reach.  While you might get lucky and catch that rare perfect candidate that way, you are more likely in my experience to get even more resume from candidates that are tough to employ for a reason.  They could be from outside your area looking to relocate, or have a very choppy job history or just are not a match for the job description.  Even the traditional job boards will give this result in a tight market, which results in you weeding through a lot of resumes that don’t result in a lot of good conversations.

In a tight job market, companies that have made a commitment to engaging and building relationships with top talented people in their industry will be the ones that are successful in hiring.  Rather than getting lucky with the timing of your job opening and a good candidate’s availability, they can tap a pool of qualified, employed professionals.

Some of those IT pros who already count themselves as “employed” are actively looking for opportunities to move up or change companies, and some are not. However, among the working who “aren’t looking,” there are always candidates who would be open to the right opportunity if it came their way. And, of course, if it came from a trusted source.

When you consider those three groups – the unemployed, the employed and looking, and the happily employed but open, you have a much larger candidate pool to work with.

Working with an Experienced IT Recruiter Makes All the Difference

If you’ve never worked with a recruiter, you may be shaking your head in exasperation wondering why we’d even count employed IT talent when they aren’t all on the market or even thinking about a new position. And the answer is: because they aren’t on the market yet.

Recruiting consultants can be the difference between waiting half a year or more to fill an open position and waiting for only a handful of months (or even less).

As IT recruiters, we are privileged to work with some of the most qualified, talented, and hardworking IT professionals in the field.  We spend a lot of our time talking to candidates before they are looking for new jobs so that we can be that trusted source to introduce them to a great opportunity.  Some of them are actively looking for a new position, but many are not. Nevertheless, almost all are open to making a change, and they rely on us to keep them informed of potential opportunities.

With unemployment in the IT sector continuing to drop, there’s no better time than now to partner with experienced tech recruiters to help you identify and attract the right people to fill your position and complement your company culture.  If you have not been able to commit the time and resources to building that network ahead of time, it is even more important to partner with an experienced recruiter to find that top talent.

Contact CopperTree Staffing today and let us help you find the perfect candidate. 

The Gig Economy is Here to Stay: Why Full-Time Jobs are Going to Contractors

Best talent and flexible costs

It’s no secret to employers that bringing on a new full-time employee is expensive.  Still, let’s consider some numbers to put it in perspective for those reading who might not be direct hiring managers.

For example’s sake, say you’re looking to fill an entry level position paying $40,000 per year. Add to that salary the average cost of recruiting a new employee yourself (about $4,000). Also, consider the time you invest in training them before they’re ready to perform, and health insurance when the average employer contribution is just under $13,000 for a family plan. Then there’s potentially retirement plan matching, and any other benefits you offer to remain competitive.

Costs for Hiring a 9-5 Employee Can Be Overwhelming

Just with our basic but very realistic example, we’re already sitting at more than $56,000 first year costs for an entry level employee. And those are only surface numbers. There’s are dozens of little and big expenses that add up quickly (sick pay, vacations, processing paperwork, etc.), and if you’re replacing an employee, the numbers can be even more staggering.

Now you can start to see why some employers are beginning to mix up their workforce and engaging freelancers for long-term contract work.

Contract Work Offers a Flexible Solution to Rounding Out Your Labor Force

Making the switch and incorporating some contractors in your workforce can provide you a degree of operating flexibility you’ve never had before. In addition to the substantial reduction in overhead, you will also have more internal financial flexibility to classify your labor costs. And hiring contractors in some instances can even give you access to a better talent pool who only take contract or contingent work because of the higher earning potential.

Lastly, when you hire contractors; yes, you will likely pay more per hour, but you won’t pay for healthcare, retirement plans, paid time off, or any of those other expenses that are the expectation for full-time workers.

The Number of Available Contract Workers Is Increasing Every Year

The gig economy or contract labor force, however, you like to think of it, continues to grow at a rapid rate. Many of the workforce’s best and brightest self-starters are making the transition to contracting. And you can access that talent pool just as easily as you can the broader, traditional full-time market. You just have to know where to look.

Interested in finding the perfect contract worker for your open position? Contact CopperTree Staffing; with our top-tier contracting talent you can potentially lower your expenses, add flexibility, and access dedicated professionals who will work harder and smarter to improve your bottom line.

What Does the Employee Marketplace Mean for Job Seekers and Employers?  


It’s official: we’re living in an employee-driven marketplace. During the recession and until recently, employers had the upper hand. The market was flooded with talented, experienced job seekers eager to get their foot in the door at companies across the nation. You didn’t have to look far for a pool of top-tier candidates.

And let’s be honest, lots of companies benefited greatly from that sudden influx of driven, highly qualified applicants. After all, there’s a big difference between selecting the best person for the job when they’re clearly the standout and taking your pick from a group of superstar talent.

Great candidates are harder to find today

But those days are over. Now the tables have turned, and the best and brightest employees are a hot commodity. Not only do you have to attract and engage star candidates, but you also have to keep employees engaged or risk losing your best people to a better, more appealing opportunities.

Human capital has the potential for the highest ROI of any investment your company makes.

In January the Execu|Search Group released their 2017 Hiring Outlook report that puts the new marketplace conditions into perspective. Understanding how employees and candidates view your hiring and onboarding systems as well as what they’re looking for in terms of job experience could be the difference between keeping your most talented employees or losing them to the open market.

Notable Findings of the 2017 Hiring Outlook Report:

  • Millennials comprise the largest share of US workers
  • A lack of advancement opportunities, salary growth potential, inadequate work-life balance, and poor corporate culture are the top four reasons employees leave a company
  • More than 60% of employees surveyed reported that they interviewed for two or more roles while interviewing for their current position
  • A whopping 50% of workers plan to stay at their current job for two years or less
  • There’s a disconnect in the hiring stage with 75% of employers reporting that their hiring process takes three or more weeks while employees feel it should take two weeks at most
  • 34% of responding employees stated that their interviewer couldn’t adequately convey the overall impact their potential role would have on reaching the company’s goals
  • Though millennials are the largest group of working professionals, more than 48% of employees across all groups stated that they don’t believe younger employees are encouraged to pursue leadership with their current employers
  • 76% of millennials surveyed said that professional development is one of the most critical aspects of company culture

If you’re an employer who’s actively hiring, you probably already know, or at least have sensed, that the marketplace is changing and these numbers only confirm what you’ve suspected. Employers are anxious to secure superstar employees and willing to put energy and effort into keeping their team happy and retaining talent. If you’re not doing the same, then you need to start right away.

Making the decision to research what employees are looking for now, or partnering with industry experts like our team at CopperTree, is crucial to engaging and retaining top talent. It’s no longer enough to try a few things here and there. You need to step up your recruiting and onboarding process across the board or risk falling behind.

Ready to partner with an expert? Contact CopperTree Staffing to learn how you can streamline your hiring and onboarding processes to attract, engage, and retain the best and brightest candidates.

 

How to Solve 3 of the Most Common Onboarding Problems


Onboarding is one of those subjects that’s been covered a hundred times before, but it still never gets old. Why? Because companies continue to make mistakes that can add up to tens of thousands of dollars (or more) down the road in the form of high turnover, costly mistakes, or a disenfranchised workforce. All of which are preventable – and the solution begins with the onboarding process.

Improve your onboarding process by avoiding these three big mistakes:

  1. Not setting clear expectations and job roles
  2. Not investing enough time or effort in training
  3. Failing to help new employees to integrate with company culture

    Successful onboarding
    Successful onboarding

Muddled Messages
From the moment you post an advertisement for your open position you’re shaping potential candidates impression of your business. Pay careful attention to the job description you give. Is it updated and accurate? Or has it been the same for a decade even though the position has evolved?

Make sure the educational and experience requirements you set aren’t just for bare minimum qualifications, but rather, reflect the necessary thresholds for success and thriving within the position – which may or may not be the status quo for the industry.  And throughout the interview process make sure you refer to the expectations and requirements laid out in your job listing. Getting sidetracked will make it harder to assess a candidate’s true aptitude and fit for the position.

Putting Short-Term Needs before Long-Term Success
It’s not uncommon for companies to start the hiring process when they’re already in desperate need to have the position filled and time is of the essence. Regardless of whether or not there’s a true sense of urgency, still take your time to train every new employee adequately.

Even if the person has been working in the same field for a decade or in the same position at another organization, train them on the nuances of the position within YOUR company. Doing so will help new hires understand what aspects of their job description are most important to you and set clear expectations.

Sink or Swim Environment
Every company culture is different. Dissatisfied employees who give low marks to their office culture think about looking for a new job almost 15% more often than those who have a more positive view of their company culture.

As a recruiter, there is one critically important side to this equation that we control. First, we must evaluate whether or not a candidate has the personality, experience, and other attributes to fit your existing culture.  Once hired though, you should have a plan for how you’ll integrate new employees into the culture.

Some approaches to onboarding and submersion in a company culture that work well are adequate training (as mentioned in #2). Also, using a buddy system, so the new employee has a direct line of communication with a senior employee familiar with their position, and making new hires feel welcomed by getting to know that individual and acknowledging their strengths early on.

Looking for the perfect candidate to join your firm? Contact CopperTree Staffing to learn more about our carefully selected, top-tier job seekers – some of whom are not even on the open market and work exclusively with us! Or visit our blog to learn more about employment trends, interviewing, onboarding, and employee retention.  

 

The Best Way to Interview an Engineer


The internet is rife with jokes about how engineers are different from regular people in the way they think, act, and communicate. You might brush some of these memes and parodies of advice off as lighthearted fun, but as is the case with most contemporary humor, there’s a little truth in jest.

Engineer interviewing
Make the most of your time when interviewing engineers

When it comes to how they behave and think, engineers are unique. They’re puzzle solvers and solution finders. They don’t ask “can I fix this problem,” they ask “how will I fix this problem.” And that’s exactly why they’re so valuable in the professional realm. We need intelligent minds that see opportunities where others see obstacles.

But there’s another side to the uber-practical-coin that is the engineer’s mind; they also don’t usually interview like an officer worker, executive, or other people-focused employees. So the question becomes, what’s the best way to interview an engineer?

WHEN YOU INTERVIEW AN ENGINEER:

  1. Don’t Skim over the Technical Details of the Job
  2. Leave Marketing Lingo Out of It
  3. Don’t Waste Time on Nuance and Fluff

Don’t Skim over the Technical Details of the Job
The number one rule for engaging an engineer and making sure you’re both on the same page when it comes to what your company is looking for and whether or not the engineer being interviewed is the right person for the job is don’t skim over the technical details of the position.

Candidates in other areas may thrive on touchy, feely language and artful descriptions that could double as an advertisement, but engineers are practical people. They need detailed technical information and specs to evaluate the job at hand and whether or not they’re qualified to meet your demands for the position.

Leave Marketing Lingo Out of It
Second, don’t fill the interview with marketing lingo. Industry jargon as it relates to the job is fine, but those fancy words that the marketing team has created to sell the end service to users or communicate with the public at large have no place in an engineer’s interview. Stick with industry terminology and layman’s terms that everyone will recognize. That will help keep communication clear and avoid potential confusion.

Don’t Waste Time on Nuance and Fluff
Lastly, every candidate deserves a warm welcome. With engineers, it’s best to be brief (but still sincere) and then spend the bulk of your time together describing the job, discussing technical specifications, and your expectations for the work. Of course, engineers are people, not machines, but you only have so much time allocated for interviews. Spending too much time on social nuance and fluff to the detriment of detailed, job-specific requirements is an inefficient use of your initial meeting.

Contact CopperTree Staffing to explore career opportunities in your field or visit our blog to learn more about IT employment trends, interviewing, on boarding, and more.