Four Major Skills Gaps in the US Workforce

188065235 (1)More and more research is showing that the U.S. workforce has significant skills gaps when it comes to both hard and soft skills. And, with the economy picking up – 2 million new jobs were created in 2013 – supply is not keeping up with demand. The McKinsey Global Institute predicts that by 2020 the United States may have 1.5 million open jobs. And not just open jobs, but jobs that cannot be filled due to a lack of qualified, educated domestic workers. This is a staggering number, considering it’s nearly equivalent to the number of jobs created in the past year, alone.

Adecco Staffing USA conducted its annual State of the Economy and Employment Survey in 2013 and found that 92 percent of the top executives in the U.S. acknowledge that there’s serious gap in available workforce skills.

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Businesses will be relying heavily on staffing and recruiting experts as the competition for talent grows fiercer. We in the staffing industry need to educate ourselves on these trends, so we can in turn educate our clients and help them prepare for the widening skills gap.

Soft skills gap
So far, much of the press and general talk around skills gaps in the United States has revolved around tech-related skills, however, executives are actually more concerned about a different type of gap – one harder to pinpoint and that many people may not have noticed.

Nearly half of the executives polled in Adecco’s 2013 State of the Economy and Employment Survey feel that the U.S. workforce’s main gap is in soft skills. These skills include communication, critical thinking, creativity and collaboration. Fourteen percent of those polled have also noticed a lack of leadership skills.

It’s important to note that in today’s organizations, especially when it comes to technical roles, employees are being continually asked to expand their role – to be more business-savvy and to interact with a broader constituency, whether it’s internal colleagues and departments, or customers and outside vendors. In this way, soft skills like communication and collaboration are becoming even more important for a growing number of roles. This especially makes finding the perfect technical candidate even harder to find.

Science, technology, engineering and mathematics
Most people are at least somewhat aware that the U.S. workforce doesn’t have enough professionals with STEM skills. It’s a large part of why more than double the available petitions for 2015 H-1B visas were filed within the first week. Many companies are launching global recruitment efforts to find the STEM talent they require.

Our State of the Economy and Employment Survey revealed that 22 percent of executives feel there is a lack of technical skills in the U.S. workforce, and 12 percent feel the workforce in general lacks requisite computer skills. Keeping this in mind, it’s not surprising that for every one unemployed STEM professional, there are currently two open jobs.

And this problem is only expected to grow. By 2018 STEM fields are expected to grow 17 percent, compared with just below 10 percent for non-STEM fields. If we continue to lack STEM professionals as we do today, this could result in 2.4 million unfilled U.S. job vacancies in STEM fields by 2018.

Next-generation marketing
Talk to anyone in marketing and they’ll agree that, with all the advances in technology, marketing has changed more in the past two years than in the past 50. Marketing is shifting heavily from outbound to inbound efforts, making a company’s digital presence exponentially more important.

To stay current and keep innovating, companies must ensure they have the right people onboard – people in new, more technology-driven marketing roles such as:

  • Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
  • Marketing Automation
  • Analytics
  • User Experience (UX)
  • eCommerce

And that list only names a few of the areas in this new type of marketing! And because these roles are new, and still evolving, quality candidates to fill them are few and far between. This makes competition for these individuals fierce. Educate your clients to look for the right personality and characteristics. Help your clients hire someone who fits the mold even if the candidatedoesn’t seem to have the exact right experience prior to starting with your client. After all, if they’re a cultural fit and have the right curiosity and intelligence, they can be trained!

Skilled trades and the impending retirement boom
More and more Baby Boomers are reaching retirement age and will continue to do so in the coming years. Two years ago, more than half of skilled-trade workers in the U.S. were already 45 years and older, and nearly one-fifth were between 55 and 64. There has been a lot of talk about how longer life expectancies and a lack of confidence in Social Security have many boomers planning to work well into typical retirement years, but given that many of the skilled-trades are more physically demanding, this trend is less likely to hold in this sector.

Executives who took our survey agree. Nearly one-third of respondents feel that the current skills gap in the U.S. affects the manufacturing sector most of all. Another recent survey by Boston Consulting Group revealed that by 2020, there will be a significant gap in the workforce when it comes to:

  • Machinists
  • Welders
  • Industrial engineers
  • Electricians
  • Industrial machinery mechanics

What the skills gaps mean for our clients
Recruiting efforts in these four areas may start to take longer. Competition for talent in these areas is sure to heat up, and in many cases already has. While your clients are recruiting for their next new hire, many of their competitors are as well, and are likely to target the employees your client already has.

Our clients need to plan ahead, and we can offer to help develop their recruiting strategies. Beyond recruiting for the future, they’ll especially want to consider methods to retain their current workforce, so other organizations don’t poach their top employees.

While it’s always been important that they offer competitive salaries and benefits – something staffing partners have always helped with – organizations should consider investing in training programs and developing internal mentors and apprenticeships to internally grow their workforce. An employee is much more likely to stay with their current employer if they know there’s room for professional development and upward mobility. Finally, temporary workers – especially those who are highly skilled – will be even more important when it comes to filling in the gaps in your client’s workforce.

MORE: Closing the IT skills gap


Joyce Russell

Joyce Russell
Joyce Russell is EVP and president, Adecco Staffing U.S.

Joyce Russell

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