Are you doing enough to find the hard-to-find talent?

You can’t swing a cat around the HR blogosphere, the workplace related trade mags or online sites, and even the mainstream business press without reading about the so-called ‘skills gap’; i.e. the stated or declared inability of many firms across numerous (and often technical) industries to locate, recruit, and hire the talent they need for at least some of their open positions.

While some will decry the ‘skills gap’ as a consequence of the widespread failure at a more fundamental and institutional level amongst, (variably), educational systems, societal pressures, governmental missteps, and large corporations to adequately assess, plan, and develop the skills that the modern and changing economy demands; others attempt to explain the ‘skills gap’ more simply, and as more a fabrication or at least a demonstration of a lack of vision on the part of individual organizations. To these critics, (Wharton’s Peter Cappelli probably the most prominent), the ‘skills gap’ perpetuates due to firms’ inability to think creatively, to adapt jobs and roles to existing talent profiles, and the general unwillingness to actually invest in people, helping them to improve their skills, (and certainly their marketability), preferring to continue to search for the often elusive person that has already done the exact same job, using the same tools, and in the same industry that they need.

Whichever side you come down on as to the larger causes and drivers in the ‘skills gap’ debate, ultimately, as an HR and Talent professional, the theoretical discussion probably matters less to your success than the actual and practical steps you take when, at a micro-level, you find yourself bucking up against the manifestation of a real or otherwise ‘skills gap’ in your world – that key position that you just can’t fill, or when you stare down a thin or empty pipeline of potential prospects to replace the dozen or so old-timer and highly specialized engineers about to head to retirement in the next few years, perhaps in a discipline that isn’t ‘hot’ for new graduates.

While a 500 word blog post can’t possibly successfully close the ‘skills gap’ debate, (or likely help you solve your ‘hard-to-fill’ position), it can challenge you to think about the problem perhaps in a new way, and offer up a reference to an interesting approach pulled from the world of digital marketing.

Check this post from digital marketers eConsultancy, titled ‘The class of 2012: Are businesses doing enough to find digital talent?’, a look at an interesting, innovative, and so-far successful program, a new graduate Bootcamp of sorts, installed to help develop some new skills in recent graduates, help connect them to potential opportunities in the industry that they might not have ever found on their own, and finally, and perhaps most importantly, raise awareness and interest in a fields and disciplines that companies have been finding, you guessed, as having a ‘skills gap.’

The entire piece is worth reading, but the big takeaway conclusion from the Bootcamp that I think has true and practical relevance to every HR and Talent pro is this one:

“The skills the industry values are available in bucket loads amongst the class of 2012, but it’s not enough to expect them to find their way to you. If organisations are looking for the best and brightest emerging talent they need to invest in raising awareness of the industry to students at all levels, and creatively facilitate entry into work through training, internships and recruiting with an eye on potential.”

And to me, that’s the ‘skills gap’ in a nutshell. Think about the overall source of talent that is reasonably available to you, be they recent grads, experienced local professionals, competitors staff you can realistically poach, or whatever contingent or contract talent you can source. Even if you find it hard to believe, and if the existence of several persistent hard-to-fill jobs on your desk seem to bear it out, it still seems likely with the application of some creative thinking, investment, and, indeed, belief, The skills (your) industry values are available in bucket loads.

You just have to be willing to get past the ‘skills gap’ (or to quit hiding behind it) to be able to find the way to them. If you can’t, then perhaps the next ‘skills gap’ problem your CEO will want to talk about will be the one in HR and Recruiting.

FOT Background Check

Steve Boese
Steve Boese is fondly known to many as the HR Technology blogger. By day, he is the Co-Chair of Human Resource Executive's HR Technology Conference. He is also a former Director of Talent Management Strategy at Oracle and an HR Technology instructor. Steve can also be found hosting the HR Happy Hour Show and Podcast … you know, where a bunch of HR pros get together and call in to talk about HR stuff. Sounds like an SNL skit, we know. But when you have Dave Ulrich, the grandfather of HR as show guests, well, I guess you’re doing something right.  Talk to Steve via emailLinkedInTwitter or Facebook.


  1. Jason Sprenger, for the IWNC says:

    This is an interesting post. Good points are made here – although maybe it’s also accurate to say that the skills gap emerging in today’s economy is caused by all of the factors above and not just a couple of them. Whatever the cause, it’s a very complex issue, and businesses should be an integral player in creating solutions to bridge the gap.

    The newly created Industry Workforce Needs Council has been working to spotlight these issues and advocate for business involvement and career and technical education programs to bridge the emerging gaps. For more information, visit

  2. Nice post, Steve.

    I recently spoke with a HR leader at a very prestigious, high-performance firm known for its great people and sophisticated understanding of human capital. I realized after my meeting that some of their core ideas seemed pretty simple and accessible to all of us. One of the core ideas, in a nutshell, is that we – as workers – are more than just the keywords we put on our resumes. People are the sum total of their skills + their values and abilities. And in rank order, according to this HR leader, abilities and values often trump skills since abilities and values are the qualities that enable us to go out and acquire skills.

    Consider the familiar story of Worker Bob (I just made him up, but you’ll get the point):

    – Skills: Worker Bob is proficient with html, css, and javascript. (Shown on Bob’s resume)

    – Values: Bob values hard work, over achievement, and a collaborative approach to innovation. (Can’t be conveyed on the resume)

    – Abilities: Bob is a fast learner/absorbs information like a sponge, and has a knack for communicating complex ideas, creating consensus, and leading teams. (You guessed it – not on the resume)

    Acme Co. has a req open that requires knowledge of CSS, HTML, Javascript, and PHP. The Acme hiring manager may have provided guidance on the job description/requirements, and maybe she is holding firm on needing every single last skill to be listed on an applicant’s resume. Meanwhile, the HR/recruiting machine doesn’t know how to manage up or push back on the rigid requirement set; they don’t know what they don’t know: They don’t realize that in this case, someone like Bob with 3 out of 4 skills can probably quickly learn the 4th. But that’s a moot point, because a debate or discussion with the hiring manager isn’t even allowed to happen. Why? Aceme’s ATS has zapped Bob out of the mix because PHP wasn’t listed on his resume.

    Perhaps the hiring manager would have taken a chance on a high potential person like Bob – someone with the right values and abilities – if they knew that Bob even existed! How many Bobs do you think are out there right now, wasting away on the sidelines?

    The tragedy of Worker Bob must explain at least part of the skills gap problem. Part of the solution must be to more effectively identify high potential people (internal and external candidates) so that they can learn skills on the job. Let’s face it – most of the skills we use in our jobs were not acquired in school. Someone gave us that first shot that enabled us to learn more and move on/up, and we continuously stretch and learn and grow our skill set on the job throughout our careers.

    People responsible for hiring need to take a fresh look at how they value the *whole* candidate, and how to approach, at scale, a screening process that satisfies contemporary hiring needs. This is just part of the answer, but I think we in the HR and HR Technology space owe it to the profession and the workforce to drive more progress on this front.

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