A recent study conducted by the recruiting software company iCMIS, Inc., found that employers deemed one-third of job applicants unqualified for entry-level positions. The survey of 400 employers and 400 college students indicated that employers sought engineering, computer science, and business or accounting majors. However, less than half of new graduates had those majors. Yet another study by the National Association of Colleges and Universities cited that graduates were lacking in interviewing skills and knowledge of the companies they were interviewing with. Is this the skills gap or something else?
A Widening Problem
While it may be that the education system isn’t properly preparing students for today’s jobs, there are other considerations to keep in mind. The “skills gap” is a national problem that appears to be widening. A recent study conducted by the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions (NMDWS) illustrates a large part of the problem.
The Albuquerque Journal reported that 74% of the 4,665 employers surveyed by NMDWS had at least one job opening for which they were having trouble filling. Among these positions were truck drivers, installation and maintenance workers, registered nurses, restaurant cooks, and retail clerks. Reasons cited for not filling these jobs were “lack of applicants” (66%) and “lack of experience” (41%).
Stuck in the Middle
Considered “middle-skill jobs,” which require more education than high school but not a four-year degree, these jobs account for 51% of New Mexico’s labor market. The National Skills Coalition reports that only 47% of the state’s workers are trained to this level.
This part of the job market is expected to remain strong through 2024. However, NMDWS study shows that jobs requiring some post-secondary education are harder to fill than those requiring a high-school diploma.
Hold the Phone
The results of such studies and reports point blame away from the employers but there is a catch: the amount of education and experience required by New Mexico employers exceed the minimum requirements typical of similar jobs nationwide.
Why the discrepancy? Analysts speculate that employers might be increasing the requirements in order to compensate for a lack of “soft skills” such as reading and writing abilities, analysis, logic, or problem solving. But is this really the answer? It seems counter-intuitive to draw a deeper line in the sand when there might be better approaches.
Work the Angles, Fill the Positions
In fact, the skepticism behind the skills gap is growing, and for good reason. Maybe recruiters are working the wrong angles.
- What about interviewing applicants for potential rather than expecting to find perfection?
- What about screening for the right candidate with the right attitude and expecting to train them?
- What about actually measuring an applicant’s actual skills instead of making assumptions based on resumes and interviews?
- What about offering to pay them a livable wage so they can focus on doing a good job rather than worry about making ends meet?
Paying a Fair Wage
Heidi Shierholz, former chief economist at the Labor Department, has been quoted to say, “If you hear an employer complain they can’t find skilled workers, always ask, at what wage?”
Too often, employers expect to hire someone with the right qualifications or experience but don’t expect to pay them a reasonable wage. That puts recruiters and applicants in a difficult position, and leaves the employers empty handed.
Ironically, in their Beige Book report for May 31, 2017, the Federal Reserve cites an example: A manufacturing firm in the Chicago District is attracting better applicants and improving retention for its unskilled workforce by raising wages 10%.
If adopted nationwide, will increasing wages make a difference in closing the perceived “skills gap”? With new minimum wage laws sweeping the country, it may help but only time will tell.