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The Skills Gap – Part II – What Are the Causes of the Skills Gap

In the first article of this three-part series about the U.S. skills gap, we defined the problem as the mismatch between the skills needed and the skill available for a particular job. In this article, we will explore some factors that have contributed to the rise and spread of the skills gap such as rapid technology changes, an aging workforce, and inadequate resume-screening processes.

Rapid Technology Changes

Some people allege that schools don’t equip students with requisite skills for the current job market. However, little hard evidence supports this theory.  Peter Cappelli, director of the Center for Human Resources at University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, has reviewed data from current research and concluded that workers aren’t lacking basic skills or coming into the workforce lacking specialized technical training (Harvard Business Review).

Instead, the problem seems to stem in part from the rapid technological changes with which it is so difficult to keep pace. New technologies require specific, bleeding-edge skills that aren’t immediately taught in schools or even on the job. Therefore, employers encounter a delay between the time they realize they need employees with a new skillset and the time they can find and/or train them (Harvard Business Review).

An Aging Workforce

Baby Boomers have been running the show for a while, and they aren’t always the most up-to-date demographic in the nation.  While some of them are starting to retire to make room for younger generations with a more cutting-edge skillset and some are still making very meaningful contributions well into their 70s.  Many appear to be delaying retirement for financial reasons or because they don’t know how to live without a nine-to-five schedule. HR Dive calls this mindset “playing to stay” (HRDive.com). Those who are merely punching in and out to maintain the status quo contribute to the skills gap because they don’t have much interest in skilling up and they aren’t making room for the people who already have. 

Please note that some of this information does not take into account the recent mass exodus from the workforce because of the COVID pandemic.   We will revisit this topic around the middle of 2022 to see what information has changed.

Inadequate Resume-Screening Processes

Because we live in an almost-entirely digital age, most companies now rely on digital resume-screening software to weed out candidates before they talk to any applicant. This approach, while it saves time and effort, can sometimes result in a misalignment between what companies are looking for and what job seekers provide (allsorter.com). Soft skills, especially, take a hit with this method of applicant stacking.

In Ryan Craig’s article, “America’s Skills Gap: Why It’s Real, And Why It Matters,” he cites a LinkedIn study of hiring managers, in which 59 percent said the soft skills gap limits their productivity. “But soft skills” Craig says, “aren’t screened at the top of the hiring funnel. Employers aren’t likely to list
‘willingness to take direction’ or ‘humility’ as skills in job descriptions, and the soft skills that are listed aren’t readily assessable from résumés” (progressivepolicy.org).

More than one factor is at play in relation to the current US skills gap. As with most problems, a number of different and not always related factors contribute.   It’s understanding these factors, what role they play and what needs to be done to mitigate them that will assist companies in recruiting the best team. 

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