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Mapping the Talent Gap

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Getting your first big break is one of the defining moments in any great career. It’s that moment when someone takes a look at you, at the work you’ve been doing and then decides, “Sure, she may not be that experienced, but boy, does she got heart. I think I’ll hire this kid and invest in making her the most useful employee that she can possibly be. Even though she needs to learn some more, I think she’s got a bright future ahead of her.” Well, that’s what the nicest boss on earth might be thinking when a bright eyed young professional comes a’strolling into his office, but, unfortunately, not every boss is the nicest on earth. Perhaps as a result of the low overhead models that so many companies adopted to survive the recession, perhaps as a result of too much time spent watching “The Bachelor,” many companies believe that their dream hire is just around the corner and that hiring someone who falls short of this imagined perfection is not worth their time. Besides deflating the hopes of an entire generation of college graduates, this predilection for hiring people only when they’ve had years of experience in the exact same job title as the open position or similarly stringent requirements has brought attention to something that we’ve all been hearing a lot about: the talent gap.

There are several factors that have lead to this apparent lack of prepared professionals. The first factor that has contributed to the mismatch between the new generation of workers and the expectations of employers, is the system of higher education in this country. Though colleges advertise and, in fact, believe that higher education is the stepping stone to a successful future in the real world as a real professional of some sort, employers are less than convinced. According to a recent McKinsey study, while 72% of colleges believe that the graduates that they churn out are prepared for the working world, only 42% of employers agree with this statement. Clearly, besides the skill gap, there exists a gap between how valuable a college education is considered by the public and how valuable it actually is to today’s employers. Though it may seem perplexing, one need only look at the pace of the marketplace to see how educational institutions have come to lag behind.

I mean, by the time you’ve taken the 4 years (6 years for most students in most states) to graduate from college, the skill that you’ve been learning so much theory on may have fallen completely out of demand or become a small subset of some other skill that employers are now looking for. The point is, the system in place for preparing the professionals of tomorrow has failed to keep up with the real world demands of employers. How exactly this is supposed to change is still under debate, but one solution that I like involves companies working with colleges to make sure that the business needs of the future will be within the grasp of the next generation of graduates.

But our stumbling system of higher education is only part of the story of the skill gap. Like they say, it takes 2 to Tango and, for the most part, employers have spent the whole evening sulking in the corner of the dance floor. 51% of surveyed hiring managers and HR pros say that they have open positions for which they are unable to find any qualified applicants. Further, 40% of these skill-heavy positions will remain open for 6 months or more. 6 months or more, and not a single qualified applicant, as in, not even the bare minimum?!? That’s half a year or more during which these businesses are paying for job boards and recruiters, half a year during which these businesses make little to no progress on the problems for which they need these skilled professionals. I don’t know about you, but that sounds like a lot of wasted time.

At this point, you might be thinking something like, “Huh, maybe what companies consider ‘qualified’ is part of what’s causing these positions to remain open for so long.” While you’re more than welcome to require whatever you want for your open jobs, there comes a certain point at which selectivity becomes a big disadvantage. If you aren’t willing to meet job seekers half way or, indeed, an inch over the line you’ve drawn in the sand, then you’ve pretty much set yourself up for a mere trickle of applicants flowing through your talent pipeline. Just look at this report from Manpower Inc on the talent shortage. According to this report, businesses say that these are the top obstacles in their way of making hires:

  1. 55% of businesses aren’t getting enough applicants.
  2. 54% of businesses are offering salaries that candidates find too low.
  3. 44% of businesses blame a lack of candidate experience for their hiring difficulties.

Now, as you can see, the first two problems on this list have more to do with the businesses themselves than with the skill level of their applicants. In today’s competitive talent marketplace, releasing lackluster or imposing job descriptions and refusing to offer competitive salaries for mission critical positions can leave you high and dry. If your job has been open for a period of several months and there’s no hope in sight of finding someone in your area who’s held that job before, you may want to try either: hiring the best person that you can and get them the training that they need to get up to speed or promoting someone from within (this will also involve training). While training can be costly, especially for technical skills, in terms of both time and money, the thing to remember is that: when the training is complete, you’ve gotten yourself a skilled hire. If you can’t hire an engineer with a niche skill set, try hiring someone in the same field and then training them to do the work that you want them to. Though having to train a new hire means that your ROI will be delayed, just think of all of the time you’ve saved by acting instead of sitting on your hands. If you’re one of those companies with positions that have been open for 6 months or more, does the cost of training still outweigh the lost productivity that this extended vacancy has caused? With vacancies this long becoming the norm for many businesses, it’s time for companies to invest in developing talent in great people instead of waiting for great talent to walk through the front door. Who knows, that person who you give a “big break” to could be your next superstar employee!

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