Is the skills gap real?

The job of a recruiter is a never ending one. It seems that there are always positions that need to be filled, but the number of qualified applicants may be low. This has led to the assumption that there is a skills gap that exists in today's workforce, brought on by a number of factors.

The most prevalent is the changing face of the workforce itself. One of the effects of the Great Recession is that it forced many baby boomers into retirement and caused those in Gen X to seek opportunities in other industries. However, as the economy began to show signs of improvement and companies once again became open to adding to their payrolls, many of the newest job seekers in the marketplace were millennials.

These individuals, while technologically savvy, don't always have the practical experience to be considered for the positions being offered. Careerbuilder, citing data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, wrote in its 2015 report, "The Shocking Truth about the Skills Gap," 39 percent of people who are 25 or younger are either unemployed or underemployed. In addition, approximately 8 percent of job seekers who hold a four-year degree from a college or university and are under the age of 25 stated that they couldn't find a job at all.

This has caused many operations recruiters to surmise that there is an overwhelming skills gap that exists in this country. But is that more fiction than fact?

According to Inc. Magazine, there are approximately 3.9 million open jobs in the U.S., a number that has interestingly gotten bigger even as the number of jobless claims has reduced significantly. Ben Bernanke, the ex-chairman of the Federal Reserve and the entity's four regional branches decided to dig deeper to uncover if a skills gap actually exists in this country. However, they were unable to uncover any solid evidence of this.

"When we look at the hard numbers, none of them are so dramatic that you get the sense that this is a major, major issue right now," Justin Rose, a Boston Consulting Group researcher who also looked into the skills gap dilemma, told Inc.

What is the real issue?
So if there is no such thing as a skills gap, why are employers so convinced that there is? Many analysts and experts believe that many companies have become overly picky in the selection of candidates. If an individual doesn't have the exact qualifications that an organization is looking for, more often than not, these individuals will be passed over.

"As a country, we need to address the question of whether we can afford … to write off nearly half of our younger-adult population as not having the skills needed to effectively engage as full and active participants in their own future and that of our nation," The Atlantic quoted the Educational Testing Service's own study of the skills gap issue.

Inc. Magazine wrote that it's not uncommon for companies to have unrealistic expectations of what constitutes a qualified job candidate. It's not uncommon for organizations, when posting open positions, to have an extensive list of requirements for the individual they consider being a perfect fit for the role.

In addition, when organizations are having trouble finding the ideal candidate on their own, they will often enlist the help of a supplemental staffing agency. However, because third-party recruiters are often bound by client requirements and have little to no flexibility in this area to use their own judgment or discernment, their sourcing and recruiting efforts are often of no consequence as well.

Solutions to help address the skills gap
So what is the solution to filling the 3.9 million job openings that exist in the U.S. today? One suggestion is that companies begin to reinvest in the creation of training programs that will get both existing and potential workers up to speed and performing at the high level they desire.

"On-the-job training has always shown very strong positive returns," Robert Lerman, a labor market specialist at American University, told Inc.

It may not be a wise business decision to write off an otherwise skilled and potentially stellar potential employee because he or she falls short of hitting every client requirement.

Another way to reverse the purported skills gap is to create apprenticeship programs that allow people to ramp up their skills and become valuable additions to the workforce in this country.

"Industry has to recognize they have some of the responsibility for the educational mission," Todd Oldham, who heads the Monroe Community College Economic Development and Innovative Workforce Services in Rochester New York, told Inc.

If the skills gap is more fiction than fact, then employers and educators must collaborate to ensure that future generations of the labor force in this country be given the opportunity to make a positive contribution to the overall economy.