The Society of Human Resources, 2016 Human Capital Challenges report listed Skills Gap as the third trend that we should be aware of. Do you find that your open positions are unfilled for a long period because you can’t find the “right fit”? In this article, I will explore what is being said about the education people are receiving and how they may, or may not be, meeting the needs of organizations.

In my last article, Middle-Skill Jobs, are they gone? I focused on what may be attributing to the loss of middle-skill jobs and if they are really gone or if we are simply having a difficult time finding candidates with the right skill set.  Unemployment is down, job openings are up and recent graduates are available. Then why can’t we find the right fit?

It is estimated that there are 5.6 million jobs open and 8.7 million people available. Manufacturing jobs are impacted by the skills gap with 3.5 million jobs and only 1.5 million qualified to fill them.  On average, it takes 26 working days to fill a job (post-recession high). While most of the jobs are reported as positions in the manufacturing or STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) fields, the trickle-down effect can be felt by many in other industries as well, including our local communities, State and Federal Government and small business. If you’re not feeling the effects today, you may feel it soon.

What is a Skills Gap?

So why is this occurring? The American Society for Training & Development (ASTD) defines a skill gap as a “significant gap between an organization’s current capabilities and the skills it needs to achieve its goals”.  Middle-skill jobs require education beyond high school, but not a 4-year degree, and the demand for this level of skilled worker is over 54%. Approximately 51% of Millennials have a bachelor degree or higher, which leaves 49% of workers available to fill the middle-skill positions. While it may not seem that big of a gap as a percentage (2%) it adds up to 5.6 million job openings.

The Millennials are the biggest generation since the Boomers and they are more likely to get (or have) a 4-year college education, but this type of post-secondary education isn’t needed to meet the skills and knowledge requirements for the available jobs. In a recent report published by Adecco Staffing Agency 92% of business leaders indicated they think Americans are lacking the skills needed to be effective, and 44% say some those skills are soft skills including communication, creativity, critical thinking and collaboration. When asked what the source of the gap issue is, 59% said it is our education system.  They do not believe our system supports the teaching of the skills needed to do the jobs that are available and 22% believe we lack training and enrichment opportunities.[1]

Affecting the impact of a Skills Gap

Collaboration and teamwork between policy-makers, corporations, and the public is necessary to provide adequate vocational training, apprenticeship programs, on-the-job training, and targeted education which can affect the long-term impact on the gaps in our workforce.  The question then becomes how can the individual organizations join this team and prepare their company for today and the future? Let’s look at what SHRM recommended in their report[2]:

Train your employees with skill gaps Partnering with local learning institutions to better prepare future employees or retrain employees with skill gaps could provide you with not only better trained and prepared applicants, but also with employees who are more effective at completing their job duties.

Join Workforce Development initiatives Workforce development programs typically have a strong tie to the community as it is an approach to enhancing a region’s economic stability by focusing on people rather than businesses.  These initiatives are unique to the community and respond to changes that could affect the workers of your organization.

Form or join a coalition of employers that support training initiatives Small employers typically don’t have the resources (time or money) to send their employees to training seminars and/or classes. Working with other small employers and joining together you may find that they have a lot of the same needs and you can support one another to provide quality training programs to your employees.

Evaluate your recruiting process If you are finding that your open positions are staying open far too long and you are not getting the qualified applicants you are looking for, it may be time to evaluate and update how you are capturing candidates. Having an effective recruiting process that helps you hire the right individual will allow you to stay focused on growing your business.

Our youth has been encouraged to get 4-year degrees, they have been told it’s the only way to get “ahead”, yet most of them are finding themselves not qualified for the available jobs. I believe that while a college education is important, I know that it isn’t the only path. The middle-class can live very comfortably on middle-skill jobs, supporting the programs and people that help these sectors grow will continue to build not only our small businesses, but will also provide opportunity for those looking to fulfill their American Dream.

Human Resources Plus offers guidance and tools to help your business develop programs that will effectively make your organization successful in building a diverse workforce. Check out our website at for more details.


[2] 5 Major Global Trends for 2016 – SHRM