“The Skills Gap,” “The Talent Gap,” and the “The War for Talent” are phrases we hear all too often as Human Resource professionals and talent acquisition authorities. I first heard those terms in 2009 at the height of the recession, when the unemployment rate was nearly 10% in America. I didn’t want to believe that we were suffering from a talent shortage. In fact, I launched a resume writing service, hoping to dispel the myth of the so-called skills/talent gap. I thought most people just had bad resumes that didn’t properly showcase their skills.

But, after a few years of working with job seekers of all levels, I must admit that there is indeed a talent shortage in the workforce.  And it’s not just entry-level employees either. We’ve all seen the news reports about CEOs who’ve had to step down because of “inconsistencies” or lies on their resumes!

I’ve had hiring managers tell me that they can’t find candidates who can pass a basic drug test. Others have expressed their frustrations about applicants who have lied about their background and/or prior experiences. In fact, it’s so bad that in August, while I was in Missouri speaking at an HR conference, one of the attendees told me that her company does not perform drug tests anymore because no one passes. It’s a huge problem.

A Widespread Dilemma

This is a global workforce issue. I’ve spoken to hundreds of HR professionals and recruiters from all over the world. We often compare notes and share stories about the incredible situations today’s hiring managers, job sources, and recruiters have to face. The United Kingdom is also experiencing similar issues with high unemployment and a low-skilled workforce.

Switzerland‘s unemployment rate is about 3%, but those statistics might not tell the entire story. In my research, I discovered that even though their unemployment rate is low, the country actually has a lot of unemployed people. And the Swiss do not count any foreign residents in their unemployment figures, only citizens, so there’s that too.

The skills/talent gap is not industry-specific, rather it crosses all professional lines. Did you know that according to the NELP (National Employment Law Project), over 65 million workers have a criminal record? And that was in 2010, so you can just imagine what that number is today! Not only does that include fast-food workers, retail employees, and frontline staff—it includes managers, directors, and executives as well.

I have also had discussions with recruiters about the lack of soft skills—yes, soft skills are in high demand today. There are people who can’t type (although they can text!), greet customers professionally, think creatively, or hold polite conversations. It seems that with the emergence of technology, our workforce has lost the basic fundamentals of both verbal and written communication.

Who’s To Blame?

Universities and employers often differ on who is to blame for the lack of skilled workers in the job market. However, the answer is not quite that simple—the gap exists for many reasons. For example, many of today’s jobs were not around 20 years ago. Another reason is that our workforce is more diverse and multi-generational than ever before, which means there are various opinions on what a specific job entails and how it should be done. More students are enrolling in college, yet fewer are graduating, which means they are either dropping out to pursue other interests or they just don’t see the value in taking on those student loans.

A lot of employers are still very traditional, and many companies are run by leaders who have unrealistic expectations for what they believe to be relevant qualifications, skills, and abilities. Basically, a lot of their thinking is outdated, and they have no idea what is and isn’t required to be successful anymore. This is why we are seeing more and more successful startup companies, which are usually run by younger, more open-minded leaders who find ways to use new technologies and social media to recruit talent and grow their businesses.

Narrowing the Gap

There are certain industries that require a high degree of education or certifications, such as accounting, engineering, IT, and finance. These areas are critical to the overall success of just about any business. In order to fill those positions with great people, it’s not simply a matter of posting ads on job boards. To lure highly skilled and talented people, you have to create a complete strategy that includes an inviting company culture and an excellent compensation and benefit package, along with interesting projects to work on.

Top talent wants to work for top companies. Places like Yahoo!, Pixar, DreamWorks, Marvel, NBC Universal, Federal Express, Zappos!, Amazon, Nike, and the like get thousands of résumés per open position. They do not have any problem finding talent; their problem lies in narrowing down the applicant pool to the very best choices. These companies use social media to their advantage as a strategic recruiting partner, and they understand the need to stay ahead of the competition.

There are skilled workers out there, it’s just a matter of knowing when, where, and how to recruit and sign them.

Chris Fields

Chris Fields is an HR professional and expert resume writer with more than 13 years of experience as a former practitioner and current HR consultant. He is the curator of two websites: CostofWork.com and ResumeCrusade.com , and contributes HR-focused content to many others, including PerformanceICreate.com and SmartRecruiters.com . He has been listed by the Huffington Post as one of the “Top 100 Most Social Human Resources Experts to Follow on Twitter”, one of the “Top 40 under 40” by the HR Blogger Network, one of the “25 Must-Read HR Blogs in 2013”, and also featured on Oprah.com. He is very active with the Society of Human Resource Management, working closely with conference directors, communication chairs, and social media teams from Illinois, Oklahoma, and Tennessee to develop social strategies to engage attendees and enhance their conference experience. Chris earned his master’s degree in Labor and Human Resources from Ohio State University. In 2005, he moved back to his hometown of Memphis, TN, where he has developed a reputation for helping his clients create HR strategies, and individuals master the tough economic challenges of the South.


  • Avatar Kinzy Oliver says:

    I really liked the way you approached the problem with qualified staff in certain occupations. But mostly what caught my attention was that you have made a very important point. It is a negative issue that is growing more prevalent lately. People no longer know how to communicate effectively and accurately! I don’t know whether to blame the social networks, the tendency to shorten words when communicating via text messages, or the rise in talking slang on TV.

  • Avatar Edith Wright says:

    I think that nowadays people do not know how to work with devotion, as their parents or grandparents did. We’ve learned that our work is done by machines and devices, so we do not feel the need to acquire certain skills anymore. In addition, I think that the workload has increased, and it is different. And to be honest, work is not what it once was. In the past, each person specialized in something, but now we must all know how to do a little bit of everything.

  • Avatar Heather Huges says:

    The reason why we can’t find skilled workers anymore is the fact that there is nobody to teach young people certain jobs, especially since the rapid development of technology has effectively destroyed certain professions. You said that there are companies run by people with an outdated vision, and you made a very successful comparison between them and the companies run by young people who can think outside the box and be successful. If I have to find someone to blame for these facts, I believe that we as a society are all guilty.

  • Avatar Bart says:

    I was impressed by the way you addressed the subject of the lack of skilled workers. It is a very well-written and relevant article. But I was surprised by what you wrote about criminal records and the percentage of workers who have one. Also, I was amazed to read the example you gave about the drug tests. I never imagined that in respectable companies, where the so-called white-collar employees work, this would be a problem. If we were talking about ordinary workers, it would be almost expected, but for highly educated office workers to use drugs is unacceptable.

  • Avatar realist says:

    There is no skills shortage. Plenty of skilled workers are out of work. They’re just rejected because they’re “too old” or they don’t want to take slave wages.

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