The Skills Gap Exists: But Not Where You Think It Does

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“We’ve got a real skills gap problem here!” It’s the biggest cliché in HR practice today. And it’s a doozie. Mention the words “skills gap” and you can stop a serious hiring strategy discussion cold in its tracks.

Yet behind the cliché lies a vicious cycle. Employers cannot find enough skilled workers, let alone enough top talent. Jobseekers have invested many years of their lives in school only to end up with little hope of any real payoff. More and more workers are finding that their skills fit fewer and fewer jobs. And others simply do not have the background or experience for the work that is available to them.

It’s an enormous problem that affects the entire economy. It shuts good people out of good jobs, keeps good companies from growing, and gums up the entire labor market. Every thought leader has some clever spin on who’s really at fault. Every software vendor claims they have a killer app for hacking the job market. And every policy wonk has a grand plan for a massive public initiative.

But no one’s got an answer for the people who bear the brunt of the problem – jobseekers and hiring organizations. They are the ones that can’t find each other, and both suffer as a result. They don’t need any more smart talk from someone with no skin in the game. They need practical solutions to find each other efficiently, so both can start making money.

Whenever two people meet on the job market, there is a gap already present

Everyone agrees that something is broken. Yet almost everyone assumes the skills gap problem lies with job market inputs or resources, which is why education and technology get so much of the blame. And that assumption just ends up with the same old dead-end debate and solves nothing.

New research published by LiveCareer in their 2018 Skills Gap Report takes a fresh approach: Yes, there is a problem. But our guess is that it lies not with the structure of the job market, but rather the market behavior of its key players.

It turns out we were right. The real skills gap is the void between the skills jobseekers say they are offering on their resumes and the skills employers say they want in their job advertisements. Friction gets created right where jobseekers and employers first engage each other in the job market. And they start off already talking past each other.

The gap only gets wider. Neither has enough good information about each other to know how to transact wisely. Therefore, jobseekers will just resume bomb, and whoever does candidate screening will revert to personal biases rather than stick with valid selection criteria. It all just spirals down from there. No amount of government spending, job training programs, or education-work partnerships can fix that.

They likely have the skills but need to mind the gap

Let’s dive into the actual research. LiveCareer took a big data approach, analyzing several thousands of resumes and job ads across 12 separate occupations. Together, those 12 occupations account for one-quarter of all occupational categories in the U.S. labor market.

Natural Language Processing was used to help understand the actual language jobseekers and employers use in the job market, what they mean by it, and what value it represents. This is the hard currency both use to negotiate the deal that closes with, “you’re hired!”

What was discovered were the right ingredients for candidates and employers to not find each other.

For starters, the number of skills jobseekers put on their resumes and the number of required skills employers list in their job ads don’t even come close to matching up. On average, job ads list 22 different skills they require of candidates, while jobseekers include only 13 skills on their resumes.

And it just gets worse when trying to sync up with actual skills. Jobseekers match only 59 percent hard skills and 62 percent of soft skills on their resumes compared with what employers list in their job ads. The greatest skills gaps were multitasking, retail industry knowledge, positive attitude, and physical demand.

We also found that employers value soft skills quite highly, more so than jobseekers seem to realize. Soft skills typically make up between one-quarter and one-half of the skills appearing in job ads. Interestingly, tech-centric jobs require essentially the same soft skills as soft-centric jobs. The soft skills employers valued most were customer service and communications skills.

Six practical takeaways for employers and job ad writers

  1. Avoid rigid, rote-automated keyword analysis when screening resumes
  2. Allow for greater nuance in keyword searches
  3. Don’t turn your job ad into a data dump
  4. Be careful not to list skills that are in any way redundant
  5. Give examples of how your current employees apply the skills you are requiring
  6. Be very consistent with your employer branding content.

But the most important takeaway from the study is that the skills gap is not homogenous and one-dimensional. It affects each industry and job category differently. Hiring organizations cannot hope to address it successfully through any kind of broad brush solution. But they can start to pinpoint where they are misconnecting with good candidates, and how they can start attracting more resumes from the ones they really want.

Additional findings, plus a downloadable version of the report, are available via the 2018 Skills Gap Report link above.

About the author: Since 2005, LiveCareer’s team of career coaches, certified resume writers, and savvy technologists have been developing career tools that have helped over 10 million users write persuasive cover letters, develop better interview skills, and write resumes via their free, easy-to-use Resume Builder.


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