Can HR Close the Skills Gap? Not really but…

Steve Boese Engagement and Satisfaction, Job Market, Recruiting, Steve Boese

Despite the continuing and stubbornly high unemployment rates across most of the USA, we still find numerous reports of employers with difficultly locating and landing talent for many so-called ‘hard-to-fill’ jobs. This phenomenon has been well analyzed, including from time to time here on Fistful of Talent.  Sometimes the ‘hard-to-fill’ scenario boils down to practical and real disconnects between the experience and skills of the locally available candidate pool and the specific requirements of the job, the so-called ‘skills gap’. While it can often be argued that too strict an adherence to educational credentials and past professional experiences unnecessarily place too high a barrier that eliminates many candidacies, there is little doubt that most skilled technical and professional jobs normally do indeed require of candidates at least a baseline level of knowledge and skills to even progress in the interview process, much less secure the position and be successful in the role.

But what if instead of the skills gap being the driver of an organization’s inability to find suitable candidates to fill their open roles in a timely manner there were other, more subtle factors at play? What if the company has a bad reputation in the local market or is known in the industry as not such an interesting or innovative company? What happens if the likely talent pools for these open positions look at the company as a kind of career dead-end, due to either an entrenched and in-place management hierarchy or a firm and seemingly unmovable grip on a fading business model? What if, quite simply, the compensation and other benefits on offer are just not up to par in the local market and force the recruiters into a sales situation with a few less arrows in the quiver than they’d like?If some or all of these factors were at play, then you could rightly suggest that most if not all of them are not only mostly correctable, but that the ownership and responsibility for correcting them would fall to Human Resources.  The Employer Brand stinks or is non-existent? HR can get on that – jazz up the careers page, film a few videos of happy employees for the YouTube channel, be more open and communicative throughout the interview process – you get the idea. The organization is not innovative or edgy enough? Simple – set up one of those newfangled ‘Facebook for the Enterprise’kind of systems behind the firewall, (so as not to annoy those geeks in IT). Make sure it has some badges and leaderboards built in to it, (it’s all about the gamification these days), and boom – ideas for new products and more high functioning teams will spring up as fast as social media strategists have popped up on Twitter in the last three years. Hard to find the experience you need in the market? Create a better pipeline of development and growth internally, so you only have to hire externally at the entry levels. Can’t compete on comp with the Silicon Valley big boys? No problem – you can at least afford some free pop in the break room, and a more liberal remote work policy is essentially free. Done and done. This really doesn’t sound all that hard.Ok, I know what the HR professionals reading this are thinking now, it’s just another FOT piece of snark, with little understanding of what happens inside real-world HR, where there are corporate fiefdoms, history, policies, unions, regulations, and a million other reasons why change, especially the kind of change that actually can make an impact in the organization, is so ridiculously hard. And if you are thinking that, you’d be right. Making these kinds of changes, having an opinion and articulating your case for change, and confronting the organization and challenging it to look in the mirror so to speak and admit to its shortcomings – all of those things take courage, confidence, and skills that are not always easy to muster up. Let’s think about this for a minute. This sounds too much like hard work.

It’s much, much easier to blame it on the ‘skills gap’, then it becomes someone else’s problem to solve.