Many employers say they can't find workers with the right skills even though there are plenty of people looking for jobs. Long-term unemployment remains a problem, and recent college graduates are joining the ranks of the unemployed or underemployed. So what's the problem?
Some people doubt employers' claims that there aren't enough skilled workers out there. But the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system is taking it seriously. MNSCU is surveying employers to find out how they can better prepare students to find work.
We did our own survey by asking employers in the Public Insight Network what they're looking for from employees. Turns out some of the skills they're looking for can't be taught in schools.
Here's a sampling of what we heard:
We are having difficulty finding software testers with database SQL experience and English language skills.
-Dan Dahl, software quality assurance for Questar A.I. They have roughly 300 employees.
We are having some difficulty finding the "hard technical skills." Design. Drafting. Product development. Project management.
-Neil Crocker, president of Schaefer Ventilation
Finding people who want to work and not just collect a paycheck is next to impossible. The skill most lacking is a work ethic. Not to mention, it is nigh on impossible to find a creative mind in today's work place.
-Mark Hayes, head of Research and Development for a small company
We just recently posted an opening. Our last opening was in February of 2011. We haven't had many applicants applying. Today I received a resume through email. The applicant had used a form letter he found online and hadn't "filled in" the blanks. If it wasn't so funny it would be sad.
-Ann Iverson, works for a small manufacturing company
We've hired some terrific people over the years, in a wide range of positions. But one skill is so scarce - and growing more so - that it remains at a premium: The ability to write. I'm not talking about professional copy writing; rather, the simple ability to write a cogent paragraph, to articulate one's ideas in clear, well-crafted sentences. I'm not sure of the reason for this, but as I talk to my peers, we're in agreement that writing is on the decline - at least, the ability to write well.
-Brian Herder, Executive Creative Director for a marketing, PR and research firm
Candidates seem to want a lot of money--more than our small business can afford. We have difficulty finding someone who can be creative, flexible, has a broad skill base, and is mature enough to work with business owners.
-Carol Keyes, owner of an occupational safety and health consulting firm
One of the biggest problems I find when trying to hire qualified staff is that individuals who meet all of the requirements are excluded from eligibility based on past criminal records. This is particularly troubling because public safety/criminal justice fields are some of the most popular associates degrees and many who are taking these courses don't know that they will not be eligible for work based on criminal records.
-Sarah Walker, COO at a large non-profit that working in public safety, corrections, and human services
What we want is a designer with a passion for technology. Since everyone is surrounded by tech, we want people who can solve problems using technology to help make the world a better place, one project at a time. Unfortunately, the schools aren't keeping pace with the industry. A student coming out of school right now with an interest and passion in solving problems for the web or tech get jobs so quickly and easily...yet very few people focus on it. It's shocking to me.
-Jason Rysavy, founder and strategy director of Catalyst Studios
Many of these employers offer some on-the-job training, but a lot of it is supplemental, meaning that the employee can't start without the skills mentioned above.
But a few employers believe in training on the job. Kristen Wasyliszyn, who runs a catering company sums it up, "The best advice I've received about hiring is this: hire nice people, you can train the rest."
Are you an employer? Do you train on the job? Share your experiences here - or in the comments.
My experience is that employers *don't want* to train on the job - their expectations are that the new hire has 20 years experience with all new and necessary skills, and have zero interest in personal development or training. An unrealistic expectation, IMHO.
We've specialized our job roles to the point where they are repetitive. We make movies and TV shows about people in jobs where one day they could be on an aircraft carrier, and the next they might be dealing with demolitions in a major city (cause really if nothing gets blown up, it's not worth putting in a movie).
Jobs offer monotony and disguise it as "solving a new problem with technology every project!"
It is interesting to note that employers aren't lowering their standards until they find some one to fill the role, which makes me wonder how badly they need some one in that role. Mean while the unemployed have given up on putting effort into applying for jobs because they aren't even getting paid for the monotony of being rejected...
"The skill most lacking is a work ethic."
I'm wary of that comment, as it sounds to me like this employer is looking for an employee who never lets go of his or her blackberry, and is expected to work 80-hour weeks for a 40-hour salary.
I wonder how many of these jobs would remain unfilled if they upped the starting wages?
I call bullshit on all the folks saying they can't find creative people and/or people who can write well. In the Twin Cities? Home of tens of thousands of underemployed writers?
Now if they'd said, "it's hard to find good writers who'll sell bullshit products," I would have believed them.
One of the reasons why I killed off my resume business was that I couldn't stand to write another resume for someone whose life work amounted to little more than selling crap to suckers. Yes, I wrote resumes for bankers.
For the company looking for people with SQL skills: teach them. Its not that hard.
I agree with the commenter who talked roles having been reduced to processes so that employees become processers, cheap and easily replaceable. I can appreciate how that could be attractive to an organization. I just think that a whole lot of potential bottom-up innovation gets lost as a result. Processors who want to do well, but only know their process may have ideas that could improve performance in any number of different ways aren't in a position to share. There are so many easy, che apways to do this kind of cross-functional sharing that I find their lack of broad-based implementation telling.
Regarding Writing skills--
I happen to agree very much with the writing skills comment. There is a complete and utter lack of understanding on how to put together a well worded email that drives action. I'm a professional, not a copywriter, so it is painful and plain awkward to have to re-write employee's communications or tell them how to put together an email. This skill should have been taught in school.
Perhaps the title should read, "Employers looking for skills they can't afford or won't train." I believe this is not a new phenomenon. Employers have always wanted to hire someone off the street, who have all the right skills and knowledge, pay them less than what they're worth, and have high morale. Rather than blaming the workforce or educational system, perhaps they should rethink their hiring approach--use that creativity they so value in others.
I'm an English instructor at a smaller for-profit (ugh) institution, and I think there are a couple of big roots to these "problems." I think a lot of the complaints about creativity can be traced to the gutting of high school art and music programs (which also happen to teach excellent work ethic skills--you can't become a good violin player without practice).
The other tension, I think, is between the critical thinking component of college and the assembly-line approach many institutions take to graduating students. The thinking seems to be that if we plug x classes into y brains it will yeild z professionals. So everybody takes the same classes. With the same requirements. Especially at smaller colleges. I understand the practical limitations of offering a wide variety of classes on smaller campuses, but it's the mentality that variety is somehow antithetical to education that I wish to highlight.
It's not hard to blame the students, also, for their resistence to, say, English classes, when the entire college experience is pitched to them as, basically, job preparation.
It seems to me the best way to solve these problems is to increase funding to high schools and state colleges.
I'm an independent software architecture and design company (self-employed). It's amazing to me how few young Americans get computer science degrees. The number is actually down from when I went to college in the 1980s.
The market is booming in technology; software architect was voted best job for the second year in a row. The pay is very good, so what do we need to do to attract talented young people into the field?
So what I'm hearing is that candidates are lazy money pits that lack creativity, communication and technical skills. Employers are looking for candidates with a diverse and proven skill set honed over several years of on-the-job experience that are willing to work long hours for little pay. Typical.
In my situation I'm an underpaid web developer with several years experience. I'm paid hourly but expected to work late (for free) like a salaried position when needed. Most of the things I do are not creatively challenging and are repetitive machine-like tasks.
Since it's an employer's market right now they can place incredible demands on their candidates. Only the candidates that are overqualified and willing to be underpaid are going to find jobs.
Many companies and government agencies these days have computers or personnel specialists screen applications for key words without attention to writing skills, critical thinking skills, creativity, or general potential. As a result, they're going to get mainly technicians who can't adapt to changing work environments and who have little leadership potential.
If you're looking for someone with a fine work ethic who writes well and is creative, I could be your next hire. Oh, and did I mention I'm nice? No criminal record, which apparently doesn't go without saying...
I find the choice of headline interesting given a project I just completed (for Citizens League) with teens who were examining the definition of student achievement -- is schools' definition broad enough?
Their conclusion was that no, it isn't. There are six primary findings you can find here: http://citizensleague.org/blogs/policy/archives/2012/05/09/teens-speak-out-on-student-ach.php?fbc_channel=1&type=resize&height=50&ackData[id]=1
Among the findings was that teens said schools are one place of learning but there are many other means of learning that are not acknowledged or seen as illegitimate. Teens thought we ought to devise a way to grant credit for out-of-school learning. Also, we ought to better support learning beyond the 3 R's, which are important, but are not all that are important (seems employers agree).
But to say that things CAN'T be taught in school is to accept our current notions of what 'school' is. That is a failure of imagination... School could be quite different than it is now. Failure of imagination is exactly what employers are complaining about with the "lack of creativity" comments.
Right out of college my first employer thought I needed better editing skills. She asked me to take a class to build these skills. It was an inexpensive option for my employer to train me specifically in a skill they needed me to have. In recent years I'm not sure if employers are still paying for, or encouraging employees to seek professional development in some of these areas.
I now work in a community college in downtown Minneapolis, with a continuing ed department. We offer classes in writing, listening and taking charge of your success - many of the skills listed above as things employers want their employees to have. What I don't see is a lot of enrollment, either from people having been asked to take classes by their employers or from people who are unemployed and seeking work. I have wondered why this might be, is it a lack of funding or are people unaware of how sharpening their skills can improve their performance? Are supervisors telling them what they need? What other barriers are employers and the workforce experiencing in seeking skill building?