Middle Skills Gap: Why are employers struggling to fill certain positions?

Topic(s): development, training
Publication: Harvard Business Review (Dec 2012)
Article: Who can fix the “middle-skills” gap?
Authors: Thomas Kochan, David Finegold and Paul Osterman
Reviewed by: Susan Rosengarten

While Americans are searching high and low for work, knocking on every recruiter’s door, struggling to land a job, there are open positions right under their noses for which employers just can’t find enough qualified candidates. In fact, shortages of qualified applicants for “middle skills jobs” (jobs that require postsecondary technical training and education) are a growing problem the nation. Some companies have even resorted to contracting their work abroad – a solution with many logistical downsides.

What’s the best fix to this predicament? Instead of waiting for candidates with the appropriate skills to come along, organizations can develop training programs to fill this “middle skills gap.” Unfortunately many organizations hesitate to invest in such training. After all, what if competitors decide to save time and money by simply snatching these skilled employees away? Why invest in training and developing your workforce, if it makes your employees more attractive to other firms and enables your employees to jump ship, taking the skills you’ve taught them and the valuable human capital they’ve acquired at your firm to your competitor?

No need to panic just yet, Kochan, Finegold & Osterman have a couple of suggestions for employers tackling this difficult situation. For starters, employers and unions in the same regions and industries should band together and combine forces to train and produce top candidates. Also, a shift in the traditional approach to education must be made. Lessons should be taken from the classroom to the boardroom. Students need simulated work situations and opportunities like internships and cooperative degree programs, or “co-ops,” which allow them hands-on experience and real world application of the concepts they learn in class. Employers should partner with universities and institutions of higher education to not only show students what a career in these fields and at their firm would look like, but also to encourage these student to visualize this as their own future.

How valuable are co-ops and internships? Have you ever participated in a co-op or internship program? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below.