The Skills Gap-Imagined, Real Or Something Else?

Over the  last few years, there has been a lot of discussion about a skills gap in workers. This has been particularly discussed in reference to US companies and unemployment and there seem to be opposing views. On one hand, employers across the globe are saying that they cannot find workers with the right skills. On the other hand, Peter Capelli, Paul Krugman and others state that employers (particularly in the US) are “whining” and there is no gap at all.

Dueling surveys

It makes you wonder if they are talking about the same thing when it comes to the skills gap. In a survey supported by the MIT project on Production in the Innovation Economy and the Russell Sage Foundation, it was noted that the skills needed in manufacturing were basic math, reading, writing and computer skills. The respondents reported little to no difficulty finding people to hire. A Boston Consulting Group survey from 2012 that focused on manufacturing also reported similar findings.

Maybe it is is not manufacturing skills that employers are struggling with? In the Manpower Group 2014 Talent Shortage Survey, it was noted that, globally, employers are reporting a skills gap. However, the skills are necessarily in manufacturing. This survey reports talent skill shortages in

  • skilled trades
  • engineers
  • technicians
  • sales representatives
  • accounting and finance staff
  • sales managers
  • IT staff
  • office support staff
  • drivers

That list goes beyond manufacturing. It is interesting to note that another survey of American workers conducted by Udemy listed specific skills that employees report deficits.

  • Computer/Technical skills
  • Management skills
  • Financial skills (including use of spreadsheets)
  • Administrative skills

Then there is the Fast Company article, “The Job Skills Gap You Haven’t Considered” which focuses on how much social media is part of doing business. More specifically, skills in information and communication technology are lacking.

Maybe it is not the skills but the willingness to pay for the talent

In Krugman’s opinion piece, he states that US employers are not willing to pay workers higher wages. When you look at pay levels globally, there is a great range. In some regions, wages are rising to attract talent while wages in other regions are staying steady or showing declines. There are also questions about whether employers are avoiding hiring older workers (which leaves a large number of people unemployed or underemployed) or preferring to hire immigrants because they can pay them less. It may be neither of these but a policy of austerity.

So, is there a skills gap?

It would seem so. When you look at the global picture, there seems to be a deficit in certain skills. If you base your argument strictly on the manufacturing skills, you miss the larger picture. Whether it is graphic artists having to rethink design because of 3D printers or the increased use of mobile devices. As James Bessen points out, graphic artists have had to adapt quickly from learning Flash to HTML5. For managers, there are expectations that workers have now about how they mix work and life which has an impact on how one communicates, where one works and how the work really gets done. Maybe the skills gap is not only one of knowledge but the ability to learn and adapt.

What is your observation of the skills gap? How does it vary globally? What are the most desired skills where you live and work? Share your insight and expertise on the Twitter chat, #KaizenBiz this Friday, 19 September 2014 at 5pm GMT/12pm ET/9am PT

 How realistic are the expectations of employers that workers will have the skills prior to applying for positions?

Who is most responsible for training workers in the desired skills-school/universities or the employer?

How would you describe the discrepancy between the opposing views on whether there is a skills gap?

With the various adaptations of technology in the workplace, how much responsibility does the worker have to maintain or enhance current skill levels?

How accurate is the perception that employers are simply not willing to pay better to attract desired talent?