HRPS: What is driving the increase in the skills gap? Why aren’t traditional methods working in closing the gap?
Jeanne: As many as 375 million global workers will need to switch their occupations because technology will make what they are doing obsolete. The pace of change has never been this fast and it will never be this slow again. Digital disruption, artificial intelligence (AI), automation of jobs, and the obsolescence of skills is resulting in a fundamental change in the workplace.
According to our research, Closing the Skills Gap 2019, conducted among 600 HR leaders by Future Workplace and Wiley Education Services, 64 percent of employers say they have a skills gap, and this is an increase of 12 percent from a similar study conducted on this topic in 2018. In addition, more than three-fourths of surveyed employers said their organization had up to 500 unfilled roles during the past year. The top barriers to filling these roles: lack of current employees with skilled talent and the inability to find qualified job candidates.
Many employers do not have a good track record in closing the skills gap. First, far too many employers do not know the skills, knowledge and capabilities of their current workers. I have heard a number of HR leaders question, "Why does LinkedIn know more about our employees than we do?"
Additionally, some HR leaders grapple with the type of skills required for the future workplace, making closing the skills gap especially difficult. Finally, employers often apply traditional corporate training methods or tuition reimbursement of college-level courses to employees needing new skills. But in the time of rapid change, traditional methods no longer apply. Instead, employers must experiment with new methods such as mentoring, apprenticeships, company-sponsored boot camps, and employer-funded MOOC (massive open online courses) specializations.
HRPS: What are the effects of different generations having on the skills gap? Will Baby Boomers retiring or Gen Z entering the workforce change the gap?
Jeanne: An aging workforce contributes to the widening of the skills gap. According to our research, Closing the Skills Gap, 31 percent of employers expect their skills gap to widen as boomers retire. On the other hand, Boomers are also seen as workforce assets, as nearly two-thirds of employers in our research have hired retirees who have left the full-time job market.
Some employers are tapping new recruitment strategies to find Generation Z job candidates. In our research, we found that 90 percent of employers would hire candidates who have the skills and knowledge to do the job as validated through a certification or digital badge but do not have a college degree. Broadening the talent pool is just one way employers can begin to close the skills gap.
HRPS: Why is there a gap between companies saying they want upskilling but not funding upskilling benefits?
Jeanne: The gap between the need to upskill employees and funding upskilling programs continues to grow as only 48 percent of employers make an annual investment of $500 or more to upskill each employee. Our research found 40 percent of HR leaders still struggle to secure funds to invest in upskilling programs and 35 percent lack in-house training resources or find it difficult to identify external training options.
But an equally important barrier to funding upskilling to changing the mindset of HR leaders to consider non-traditional ways to upskill including company-sponsored skills boot camps, open enrollment skills boot camps, industry certifications, MOOC specializations, and apprenticeships.
HRPS: How will the skills gap change the workforce in terms of full-time employees vs. gig workers vs. AI vs. other solutions?
Jeanne: Closing the skills gap will contribute to creating a more diverse workforce by casting a wide net of candidates who have the knowledge and skills but may not possess a college degree. These workers will work side by side with gig workers who now comprise 56.7 million U.S. workers with bold estimates that the majority of workers will be freelancing by 2027. The wild card in all of this is the emergence of bots who will also work side by side with both full time and gig workers. According to Gartner, one in five workers will have a digital assistant by 2022.
HRPS: How are companies partnering with educational/training institutions to close the gap?
Jeanne: With a global talent shortage expected to reach 38-40 million by 2020, employers now look to candidates without four-year degrees to find desired skillsets. A survey of 600 U.S. employers conducted by Learning House found that 90 percent would hire applicants who have a validated certification or digital badge but lack a college degree.
Bold and innovative partnerships between companies and educational organizations are what will help close the skills gap.
HRPS: What should senior HR leaders change or initiate to solve this issue?
Jeanne: More companies should begin to strategically address closing the skills gap. Here are three suggestions for this:
- Conduct a skills inventory across roles and question the assumption of whether a certain degree is required in the first place. Consider the data gathered by Burning Glass showing for the role of supervisors of production workers, 67 percent of job postings requested a bachelor’s degree or higher. Meanwhile, only 16 percent of workers already employed in this role actually had a degree.
- Change the mindset of hiring managers—not just job descriptions—in sourcing non-traditional talent. Think boldly and consider hosting your own HR hackathons to identify solutions to close the skills gap, build new partnerships with community organizations, offer community-based learning, or develop your own company-sponsored boot camp to build new skills among legacy employees making them employable for the 21st century.
- Understand the internal roadblocks to closing the skills gap involve more securing funding and importantly include adopting a bold vision for building nontraditional partnerships to go beyond traditional training solutions to better meet the needs of a diverse pool of employees.