As HR professionals and/or members of the recruiting industry, we’ve all heard about the skills gap: the idea that employers are having a hell of a time finding talent with the right skills to fill their open positions.
A little over a year ago, I wrote about the gap myself and railed against it as the result of our weird passive candidate fetish. I, as I am wont to do, pointed the finger at employers — not employees — for this state of affairs. (Anyone who has read my work with any regularity knows I’ll almost always side with employees and candidates. Sorry, companies.)
I’m not totally convinced that I wasn’t right to lay the blame on employers’ shoulders, but Spherion Staffing’s recent 2015 Emerging Workforce Study (EWS) does complicate our picture of what, exactly, the skills gap is and why it’s happening.
As it turns out, it’s not just employers who are worried about the state of talent today: a lot of employees themselves feel like their skills aren’t up to par.
A ‘Confidence Crisis’ Runs Rampant in Today’s Workforce
Spherion Division President Sandy Mazur says this was the first year that the EWS asked employees about their confidence in their own skills — and researchers were surprised to find that a lot of employees feel there is a skills gap of sorts: a gap between the skills they have and the skills they would need to progress in their careers.
According to the EWS, 35 percent of workers find it hard to keep their skills up-to-date; 29 percent feel their skills are outdated; and 33 percent say their skills “fall short of what will be required for future positions.”
“Employers were saying the same thing: the No. 1 concern of HR people today is finding highly skilled workers,” Mazur says. “It was interesting to us that both employers and employees were concerned about the same thing.”
Spherion has termed this situation a “confidence crisis”: employees and employers alike lack confidence in the U.S. workforce’s current abilities.
Whose Fault Is It Anyway?
Here’s where my initial picture of the skills gap — i.e., that it was entirely employer-created — really starts to get muddled.
According to the EWS, only 33 percent of employees say “that the training and career development opportunities in their organization are excellent/good.” So, it’s the employers’ fault, right?
Not so fast: 31 percent of workers feel they were not trained adequately enough by their employers, which means that 69 percent of employees do feel they were adequately trained.
We’re getting some mixed messages here. So what, exactly, is going on?
Mazur interprets these stats as the result of employees divvying up the responsibility: overall, it seems that workers feel both they and their organizations play a role in the perpetuation of the skills gap.
“They’re putting a lot of responsibility on the employer, but they’re also assuming some responsibility on their own,” Mazur says.
While 76 percent of employees say their companies should provide clear career development paths, many of these same employees also believe it is important for them to take development into their own hands.
“[Employees] are looking at the training programs available to them, and they are looking to their own supervisors to guide them where their skills might be falling short,” Mazur explains.
Enough With the Blame Already — How Do We Fix It?
Perhaps the lesson here is that pointing fingers is ultimately needless. There’s a skills gap. There’s a confidence crisis. Employers and employees both see it — and employees feel that solving the crisis and closing the gap requires a joint effort from themselves and their organizations.
And what does this joint effort look like?
As mentioned above, employees need to take more active roles in their own career development by seeking out training opportunities — both within their organizations and on the outside. Meanwhile, employers need to ensure they are offering great training and development programs — and, perhaps more importantly, they need to expose employees to clear career paths.
“Employers are putting more training programs in place,” Mazur says. “Maybe what we’re not doing enough of is the career mapping that employees are looking for.”
In other words: the training might be there, but do employees really know where they stand, where they can go, and what they need to do to get from point A to point B?
Employers, this is where I bring my focus back to you: take some time to really look at career paths and career development in your organization. If you’re not actively working with employees to help further them along in their careers, you’re contributing to the skills gap — and shooting yourself in the foot.