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Steps to Closing the Skills Gaps

All through 2014 and, now, well into 2015, many employers across sectors have expressed the same concern: in a time of recovering markets and increased needs, there are not enough qualified candidates to satisfy demands. In fact, 63% of the respondents to the employer surveys conducted for our 2015 Regional Hiring Outlook whitepaper cited that the biggest hiring challenge this year will be finding qualified candidates.  This is what we call the “war on talent”—the struggle for employers to find talent suited for their needs and, eventually, the competition for one company to outdo another for top applicants.

As a result of these skills gaps felt across industries, employers have been realizing that efforts must be made to attract and, perhaps more importantly, retain this talent; otherwise, this struggle could continue in the future and contribute to the growing gaps. Three main steps hiring managers can make to help close the skills gap is by remaining open to temporary staffing and new grads, investing in succession planning, and being more forthright and detailed on job listings to ensure the right talent is being attracted.

Temporary hires can be great assets during this time to help ease transitions between permanent placements, or to assess the fit of a potential candidate for a long-term position. Rather than signing a candidate on for a permanent position immediately, employers can take a fixed period of time to test the candidate’s skills, cultural fit, and longevity within the position before making the commitment; by offering temporary roles, employers are also offering learning opportunities for job seekers in the market to pick up and strengthen the skills so in-demand, therefore contributing to the longer-term goal of closing the skills gap entirely.

However, once a long-term hire is identified, it’s important for companies to put greater emphasis on succession planning. Respondents to our Regional Hiring Outlook employer surveys stated that the #1 greatest challenge toward employee retention is providing upward mobility, but in order to ensure there are no gaps in future employment and hiring, the right knowledge and training has to be provided to candidates at all levels. In other words, whether a candidate is a new grad or a seasoned professional, there should be strategies in place to ensure they are provided with the right training upon being hired and throughout the duration of their time with the company. If applicable, plans should also be put in place for an employee’s replacement upon retirement.

This may seem like a lot to invest in an employee who could potentially move on at any time, but succession planning ensures that employees are properly trained for these positions, wherever they end up. However, 36% of candidates surveyed for our Hiring Outlook reported being unsatisfied with initial and continuous training at their companies, so providing this incentive and the potential for upward mobility is a great way to retain top talent. Then, if they stay with the company, they’ll be able to grow within and past their role to help prevent future hiring issues; if they don’t, there will be more trained and qualified candidates in the market as a result. By planning for the long-term, employers can groom employees for success and prevent long stretches of hiring in which there are no qualified candidates. The more companies that take this approach, the more the skills gap will shrink.

Of course, these changes likely require an adjustment to current hiring strategies. Since the ideal succession plan will include training throughout an employee’s career, companies should help break the “can’t get a job without experience, can’t gain experience without a job” paradox that many job seekers face by remaining open to new grads and those switching directions in their careers. In addition, putting more detail into job descriptions to discuss soft skills, cultural fit, and recommended training and education in addition to technical skills and a list of responsibilities can also help attract the right candidates for a position and, ideally, help narrow down the pool from which an employer has to choose.

Thankfully, it seems that many employers are already putting these efforts in place. 65% of those surveyed plan to put greater emphasis on training and retention efforts this year, and when it comes to initial hiring, 80% now view personality fit as “critical” or “very important.” By continuing and improving this mindset, employers can help improve the quality of the job market and prepare candidates for their current and future responsibilities, thus closing the skills gaps across industries.

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