HR Examiner v3.48 December 7, 2012
Table of Contents
by China Gorman
John Sumser’s series on the so-called skills shortage should be required reading for every person in HR, for every business leader and every politician. Period.
We may not agree on every point, but he raises the questions that need to be asked, and he provides a fact-based context for the discussion. Perfect!
And while I do believe there are skills shortages locally, regionally, nationally and in some key technical occupational areas, I also believe that some of the so-called skills shortages and the resulting hand wringing about “we can’t find the skills we need in the locations we need them,” are in many cases self-inflicted!
John and I started this conversation at TruLondon in October. My position was (and is) that there are many job descriptions written that needlessly require a four-year college degree. There. I said it. Me, the defender of liberal arts degrees. Me, the requirer of great writing skills. Me, the valuer of highly developed communication skills. Shocking, I know.
But here’s the thing: sometimes the lack of a college degree is more indicative of a family’s financial situation than of an individual’s basic skill level or native intelligence. Sometimes the lack of a college degree means nothing when evaluating an individual’s work experience. Sometimes an Associate Degree or a certificate is more than enough for an entry level or para-professional job.
Four-year college degrees have long been a proxy for base level of skills—that a person can write, work with numbers, and think through difficult questions. Except that’s probably not true any more. Not only are there many ways to get those skills these days, there are many ways to get them that don’t include an over-priced experience that saddles the student with tens of thousands of dollars of debt. Additionally, most employers will argue that a four-year degree isn’t a proxy for anything any more: they provide no guarantee that the holder will actually be able to write, speak, think or do the most basic math.
If your job description requires a 4 year degree, your ATS will eliminate the resumes of people with Associate Degrees, people with native intelligence who will pick up the job skills in no time, people with substantial skills gained through on-the-job training; people who are highly motivated to engage with the mission and goals of your organization, an many veterans and the skills they gained through military service.
I agree with John Sumser. There certainly are pockets of real skills shortages. But unless you’re looking for highly technical skills and people who can be certified to work in some highly regulated industries, you just might be covered over in talent that you just can’t see.
Think you have a skills shortage? Take another look. It just might be that you have a mind-set that limits great talent from getting in the door. It just might be that you’ve created the skills shortage yourself. Take a look at your job requirements. Talent surrounds you.
Skills Gap 2: Outsourcing
Outsourcing almost always creates the perception of skills gaps.
Like the hiring paradox we covered in the first installment of this series, some of what is experienced as a gap is really a matter of perspective. In a world dominated by gut hunches, perception is reality. The reason we want to dig a little deeper is that when you solve a problem of perception as if it were a problem of supply, the wrong decisions get made.
An abundance of resumes from unqualified or under qualified people always creates the sense that the market is producing badly. It’s a symptom of too much information that can be solved with filtering. It’s one of the untold side effects of the proliferation of job boards and how easy it is to apply for jobs.
(Somewhere down the road, we’ll make the case for making job application processes harder. One of the next frontiers of the Candidate Experience story will be demanding rigor from the application process.)
It’s easy to become immune to stories about layoffs and outsourcing. The numbers are delivered like a drumbeat. They are responsible for a net drop in the national labor participation rate. They seem to happen nationally unless they happen to you.
The truth is that outsourcing is precisely a local phenomenon. Layoffs and downsizings happen in this particular plant in this particular town. The abstract national statistics are just another way of disassociating.
What happens when a department is outsourced?
First of all, let’s get the real context.
80% of the American workforce lives in cities like Sioux City, Iowa. The town has two major industry ecosystems and the services infrastructure (retail, hospitality, health care, government and education). Generally speaking, workers spend their careers in one of the three systems. Virtually no one leaves.
The 10, 20, 50, 100 jobs that used to exist simply go away one day. The people who held those jobs have to find work. Each and everyone of them will want to stay in the neighborhood and make at least the same money. No one leaves the layoff room intending to march right out and get a job that pays less.
That means that the labor market is flooded with resumes from people who are not qualified to do the work after each and every layoff. Hiring managers and recruiters experience the increase in non-qualified resumes as a dilution of the pool.
In a nutshell, a layoff always makes it seem like the labor market has gone to hell for the people trying to build teams.
Read the series
Skills Gap 3: The Pace of Change
If you are reading this, you most likely have a smartphone in your pocket or on your desk. That phone has the processing capacity of a late 1980s Cray computer. They were the fastest machines of the time. It took six of them to operate the NSA.
Next year’s phone will be twice as powerful. The doubling in capacity/performance will continue every 18 months to two years for the foreseeable future. By 2020, computing power will be 1 Billion times as powerful as it was in the mid 1960s.
We’ve gotten used to the parade of technology and the way it rapidly becomes primitive looking.
By the time they turn 21, anyone born after 1980 has an average of 10,000 hours playing video games. In that process, they master patience, the willingness to voluntarily do hard work, learning from progressive failure, collaboration, concentration, the use of focus. They experience instantaneous feedback, engagement and the joy of accomplishment.
We haven’t begun to figure out how to harness either that trained workforce or the technology they bring with them to work. We live in an era where every employee has better technology in their pockets than the company offers as a part of the job.
It’s the combination of the relentless rush of technology and our collective failure to harness the ready made workforce that account for the largest dynamic in the skills gap: there are very few jobs left that are not technical to some degree. Every worker must interact with technology to get their jobs done. But, the workforce is not trained in those specific skills
The gap is the distance between the training hey have and the work that needs to be done. The gap grows logarithmically every two years. It’s out of control and getting worse.
Part of the trouble is that supervisors, managers and executives often do not understand how the work is done. That makes it hard to understand the investment required to convert raw human capital into the worker needed on the job.
As technology spirals beyond our control, it feels like somebody must have made a mistake. Some blame the school system, some blame the generation of video gamers. You don’t see many executives blaming themselves and trying to figure out what they did wrong.
That’s due in part to the generation’s view of performance. Boomers and GenXers came of age in a time when there were right answers and explicit career paths. Failure was never really discussed. The boss was the boss and his plan was a vision.
Contemporary workers, who have learned how to learn through progressive failure, don’t behave like that. The boss has to prove his or her worth. Failure is central to progress.
The faster technology moves, the more it exacerbates the differences between these two camps.
It’s easier to call it a Skills Shortage than to call it Managerial Incompetence.
Read the series
Five Links: Skills Shortage / Skills Gap
If you’re following the emerging skills gap story, it has a lot of facets. Here are several. The terrain includes a consultant, an online community, college, a study and an analysis.
- Hays Global Skills Index 2012
The index ranks what used to be called first world countries by the competitive intensity of thier labor markets. The average score is a 5.1 which indicates vulnerability to shortages if economic growth increases.
Wnat to find Data Scientists? Kaggle claims to have 65,000 participating in competitions. Kaggle is an arena where you can match your data science skills against a global cadre of experts in statistics, mathematics, and machine learning. It’s also a platform for data prediction competitions that allows organizations to post their data and have it scrutinized by the world’s best data scientists. In exchange for a prize, winning competitors provide the algorithms that beat all other methods of solving a data crunching problem. Most data problems can be framed as a competition.
- The News So Far: A Maler Older Workforce
“The participation rate of men is still higher than that of women, at 70.3% in October. But it has been falling long-term, causing pretty consistent overprojections by the bureau. Even the “low” estimate in its November 1993 projection for male participation in 2005 proved too high. Especially disconcerting is the long-term decline in the participation rate of prime-aged men, 25 to 54, from an average of 97% through the 1950s and early-’60s, to 88.7% in October. But there’s no compelling reason to assume the trend is incapable of reversing.”
- Saying No To College
One of the most disturbing trends is the faddish notion that not getting a college degree is somehow a smart choice. This piece weilding a half dozen stories of programmers who dropped out to become the next Gates, Jobs or Zuckerberg. This meme would be more useful if it said “if college is really, really easy for you, consider quitting. If it’s pretty hard, stick with it.” If you want to be Bill GAtes, have a mother who can influence your most important contract and a rich lawyer for a dad. If you want to be Steve Jobs, be prepared to spend a lot of really uncomfortable time searching for meaning in poor partts of India. Also see Forgoing College to Pusue Dreams (about the Thiel Fellowships that pay really smart kids to avoid college)
- Skills Gap: No Big Deal If…
A Boston Consulting Group gure (they’re the people who brought you the 2×2 matrix) sez that the skills gap will become a problem when the boomers retire. It’s an idea straigh out of the mid 90s.
- The Skills Gap Webinar
A recording of the Risesmart sponsored webinar from earlier this fall.
A lawyer I worked with told me he was blown away because I wasn’t afraid of anything. I had no idea what he was talking about. I’m scared of everything.
I just don’t let it interfere with what I want to do.
Fear is not something to fight, overcome, ignore, hide from, or defeat. It’s not a weakness. Fear is good stuff. It protects us, gives us important information, motivates us.
The trouble starts when we believe that it’s too hard, other people will think we’re stupid, or the million versions of I’m not good enough. When everything is too scary, we shut down and make our world small so we can control it. We close our minds and our hearts to anything new or different.
That’s why fear is the root of discrimination and resistance to change. It manifests in arrogance, power plays, violence, back biting, control issues, withdrawal, and pretty much anything that makes other people unpleasant to be around. Especially at work.
I tried to fight fear– to overcome it. I just ended up completely focused on how scared I was, which paralyzed me. Also, the scotch it took to silence it wasn’t worth the consequences.
So I’ve learned to just invite fear along for the ride. I give it a little attention, tell it some jokes, and ask it, very nicely, to stay in the backseat. When the fear is insistent, I listen to what it’s trying to tell me. But I don’t believe everything I feel or think when I’m scared. And I try not to make big decisions out of fear (or anger).
Usually, it’s just that I’m worried about the outcome. I’m anxious about uncertainty.
Yet, most things are uncertain, almost all the time. And that is neither a good nor a bad thing. It’s just how it is.
So instead of getting caught in the crisis, or drama, or insecurity, now I notice it. And then remember that I’m really good at terrified.
Thank you to Bryan Wempen and William Tincup who inspired me to write this after our discussion on Drive Thru HR. To listen to the show, click here.