March 18, 2018

The Skills Gap is Real - Examining the Status Quo and Skills Gap Solutions

By Joan Andrews, RTWBC

Are we really looking at all available talent? Over the next few weeks, we will be discussing the challenges that all employers are experiencing - the skills gap. Where and how do employers find the talent they need in the face of a retiring workforce, the brain drain, relocating youth, ill prepared and a lack of knowledge of job growth opportunities in skills-based sectors? 

The skills gap is real

For businesses, the time it takes to fill an opening has increased 25% since 2007, the last year the labor market was as tight as it is now. The Conference Board agrees that it is now more difficult to hire qualified workers than it was in 2007. The data seems to indicate that when the applicant pool was full, employers would upskill job descriptions to  choose from a pool of ‘ideal-and-beyond’ candidates. 

But now, employers are finding that they need to reduce expectations and ‘downskill’ job postings. Four year college degrees are even being phased out of job requirements at companies across the nation. 

A Georgetown study predicts a shortfall of 5 million workers with post secondary education and training by 2020. Employers can’t find candidates for well-paying jobs. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that the United States will need 3 million more workers in the next ten years to fill low-skilled jobs that will enable the country to achieve economic growth. Chuck Hadden, the president of the Manufacturers Association, said delayed retirement helps close the skilled trades gap by a margin – but it isn’t enough.  

What Employers are doing

In response to the tight labor market, there has been an ongoing shift in requirements in job descriptions. Even major companies like IBM are eliminating the need for a four-year degree for certain positions.  

In lieu of general post-secondary education requirements, employers are seeking to fill their positions with candidates that possess the necessary skills. Skills-based hiring is thriving, but what’s even more interesting is that this trend is generating industries and creating jobs in and of its own right. 

Employers need skills, not degrees.

Apprenticeships are on the rise in not just trade-based industries, but also in white-collar fields. Harvard Business School’s Project on Managing the Future of Work collaborated with labor market analytics firm Burning Glass Technologies to research the apprenticeship trend and their findings suggest apprentice opportunities have the potential to increase eight-fold in the coming years. Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff has gone so far as to challenge the nation to create 5 million apprenticeships in just five years to strengthen the workforce. The concept has received bipartisan support and endorsement from the Congress.

Bootcamp-type schools with immersion training in tech are popping up nationwide and creating streamlined pipelines to employment. Furthermore, such shifts can help employers improve the diversity of their applicant pools.  Employers are also noticing the tremendous value in hiring people with disabilities. UPS has developed a training program with the Louisville Coalition for Disabilities: they have hired in excess of 100 employees with a retention rate exceeding 80%.

Public-private workforce program partnerships also generate skilled talent solutions. The Rockford Illinois Workforce Program supplies the region's 250 aerospace-related companies with skilled mechanical engineers. As a result of a partnership with Northern Illinois University Mechanical Engineering at Rock Valley College, the Rockford metropolitan area has 1.3 times the U.S. average of engineers. Through the direct talent supply chain the partnership offers, these engineers account for 80% of all aerospace employment in the state.

Developing Workable Solutions 

It seems apparent that while the skills gap challenges are real, the solutions to those challenges are also real. Are employers realizing that it is to their benefit as well as their employees’ to provide training?  And, are educators learning that they need to provide training that will provide employability of their student body?


Ready To Work Business Collaborative, founded by a collective of Fortune 500 companies, is committed to working cooperatively to develop hiring best practices that target the long-term unemployed, under-employed, people with disabilities, military veterans, and Opportunity Youth. The RTWBC accomplishes this mission through collaboration, thought-leadership, and services that support employers who desire to serve these talent pools better.

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Ready To Work Business Collaborative works cooperatively to help employers develop hiring best practices that target the long-term unemployed, underemployed, people with disabilities, military veterans, and Opportunity Youth.

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