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.

 

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