China Gorman, HRExaminer Editorial Advisory Board Member

China Gorman, HRExaminer Editorial Advisory Board Member

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.

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  • We expect a lot from higher-ed; career training, soft skill aquisition, a foundation in the liberal arts, leading edge research, maintaining standards in the professions, political correctness, class filtering, big time sports, and of course party time. That’s a tall order. The price has gone way up- and not just the cost of the education. The opportunity cost of missing four or more youthful years of key experience has risen as different ways to earn a good living without the degree present themselves to capable people. To be sure: most STEM jobs and the professions generally require and should require degrees.

    The real gap in our current society is the role and results of public high schools. At the currrent cost, liberal arts education is unaffordable to many if not most of the people that can even afford higher ed for vocational training. Many kids are ready for what we call college today at age 15 or 16, and many others, who wont thrive anyway in the academic world, are sent down that track anyway.

    Incentives should exist for Industry to be training 17 and 18 year olds as a matter of course- what a waste for so many not to get into a vocational groove until they are nearing 30…..

  • Agreed, hire the person, train the skill.

  • dsliesse

    I agree that is either the first- or second-most-prevalent reason for the complaint. The other contender is the unspoken second half of the sentence: “there is a shortage of qualified people [willing to work for the inadequate salary we want to pay them].” I noticed this a few years back when I was doing a periodic look through open IT jobs and found several where the large company in a large metropolitan area wanted to pay below-entry-level rates for experienced workers.

    Even with the economy the way it is today, there are limits to how low salaries can reasonably go. Sometimes the employers are going to need to bite the bullet and remind the shareholders that THEY are the ones who are supposed to bear the burden, not the employees. The days of 20% annual growth are over.

  • Degree requirements in jobs often have nothing to do with this degree being teaching you anything you can’t learn some other way and therefore being essential to be able to do your job. The exception, as others have pointed out, is certain technical disciplines. As a Recruiter I will always discourage the inclusion of a statement that a college degree is essential, unless there is a genuine reason for it. But assessing intelligence without the safety net of a degree is not easy and can be very time consuming. So, often a degree becomes essential having started as desirable simply to take the short list to a manageable length. In the absence of a cost effective and efficient method of assessing general intelligence and problem solving skills many companies will continue to ask for degrees even though they are really not an ingredient for success.

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