Skills Shortages in a Time of Need

Although unemployment remains high, I regularly hear business leaders lament the lack of available, high quality talent in the market place.   They quickly clarify that the issue is not applicants or the level of interest in opportunities, but the number of qualified and capable applicants.  One organizational leader mentioned that a recent position garnered over 500 applications, but only five possessed the required skills and abilities.  Of the five, only three had the relevant and required experience. I inquired if that was an unusual occurrence and was told flatly no.

The Manpower Group Talent Shortage Survey 2012 estimated that 49 percent of employers are having difficulty filling jobs.  The number one reason for the difficulty: lack of talented candidates or the mismatch between candidate skills and job needs. Which occupations possess the greatest mismatch? The ten hardest to fill jobs include:

  • Skilled Trades
  • Engineers
  • IT Staff
  • Sales Representatives
  • Accounting & Finance Staff
  • Drivers
  • Mechanics
  • Nurses
  • Machinist/Machine Operators
  • Teachers

The most common solution for the shortages in relevant talent: focusing on retention.

If the heart of the talent shortage relates to mismatched skills, what is the extent of this phenomenon?

A recent insightful Wall Street Journal article ( addressing the shortage summarized work by the Federal Reserve and concluded:

Analyzing data from the Labor Department and the Conference Board’s database of online help-wanted ads, they calculated that about a third of the increase in unemployment among college-educated workers from 2006 through last year was the result of workers not having the right skills for the positions available.  

The article goes on to indicate:

To be sure, workers with more education are far better off in the grim job market. In August, the unemployment rate among people 25 or older with a college degree was 4.3%, up from 2.1% when the recession began in December 2007. That contrasts with 14.3% among those without a high school diploma, up from 7.7%.

The difference is that while less-educated workers face a general dearth of jobs, there are job openings that require higher education. But many unemployed college graduates lack the skills to fill them.

This begs the question of “what skills?” Is this a matter of technical knowledge, people skills, or new skills completely? A 2011 Manufacturing Institute survey found that the top skill deficiency among manufacturing workers was “inadequate problem-solving skills.” A surprising number three was “inadequate basic employability skills (attendance timeliness, work ethic).” Returning to the Manpower Group survey from 2012, 26 percent of employers complained about the lack of similar “soft skills” among candidates.

For those of us that develop talent, the shortage in the available labor market seems to relate to a lack of higher order analytical or “thinking” skills and soft skills.  These skills might be a great addition to our on-boarding process if the market is unable to provide what we need or we cannot afford what we want from the market.

This entry was posted in HR Operations, Organizations, Workforce and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.