A series of factors are exacerbating the talent shortage:
- The costs of a four-year college degree have escalated so much that many bright students are declining to incur student loans that could leave them more than $40,000 in debt before they even graduate.
- Society continues to short-change the images among young people about working in the skilled trades or manufacturing, even though many of the available jobs exist in those sectors.
- The existing workforce in the skilled trades and manufacturing is aging, and the qualified talent pool to replace them is not keeping pace.
- Technology is changing so rapidly that it becomes difficult for employees to update their skill sets to match the tasks that an employer needs done. Job descriptions have become moving targets.
With so much in flux, many employers are adopting a strategy that Milwaukee-based ManpowerGroup refers to as the "Teachable Fit."
Using the "Teachable Fit," an employer identifies a bright intern or employee who may not have completed that four-year degree and may not yet have acquired all of the technical skills needed for a specific job. But facing a talent shortage, the employer hires or promotes that employee, banking on that worker's capacity to grow into the position as needed.
With the right attitude, enthusiasm and a willingness to learn on the job, some new employees flourish and can be molded into the perfect fit.
The national unemployment rate was 8.2 percent in May, but there are 3 million unfilled jobs nationwide, and employers report having difficulty filling openings.
In ManpowerGroup's 2012 Talent Shortage Survey, 49 percent of U.S. employers reported trouble finding skilled labor.
Employers responding to the survey reported a lack of applicants as the greatest barrier to filling jobs, followed by lack of technical competencies (hard skills) and lack of experience.
In a recent survey of readers at BizTimes.com, 67 percent of respondents reported experiencing a talent shortage in the current labor market.
Some companies may be too choosy in their hiring, according to Melanie Holmes, vice president of World of Work Solutions at ManpowerGroup.
"I think a company or a hiring manager will think, 'Well, there's so many unemployed people out there, I know I can find the right person.' So they keep waiting for the perfect person," she said. "Those perfect people don't necessarily exist."
In a whitepaper titled, "Teachable Fit: A New Approach for Easing the Talent Mismatch," ManpowerGroup emphasizes that the talent shortage cannot be fixed one new hire at a time – employers must take a revolutionary approach to hiring.
Technological changes happen quickly enough that a company's workforce can easily become outdated, especially if it loses some key employees to other companies as the economy improves.
"The velocity with which things are changing in today's world, I believe, makes it difficult for individuals to keep up and for employers to keep up," Holmes said. "Particularly in this recession, where people have been out of work for a period of time, however long it is, things could change while people are looking for work."
In addition, 10,000 baby boomers turn 65 every day. Those workers are retiring in droves, and there often aren't enough young people in the pipeline in many industries to fill their places.
In its 2012 Talent Shortage Survey, ManpowerGroup predicted the talent shortage will not only continue, but worsen as the economy improves and more employers begin hiring.
Skilled trades are the most difficult jobs to fill worldwide, followed by engineers and IT staff, according to the survey.
The firm's survey also shows that companies are not as concerned about the talent shortage as they should be, Holmes said.
"The number of people that consider this to be an important issue is going down, not up," Holmes said. "If this isn't on people's radar screens, they might wake up one day and not have enough people."
The talent gap has hit the manufacturing sector the hardest, according to Scott Mayer, chief executive officer of QPS Employment Group, a Brookfield-based manufacturing placement firm.
The talent pipeline for semi-skilled and skilled workers has mostly dried up as the manufacturing workforce ages and the majority of high school students eschew the industrial sector, Mayer said.
"The average skilled worker is 59 years old, he's gray-haired and he's getting ready to retire," Mayer said.
QPS has seen previously picky employers start to loosen up in their hiring practices because they need to fill orders with the workers that are available, Mayer said.
About half of the companies that QPS works with have indicated they are willing to train employees who are a "Teachable Fit," Mayer said. A year ago, that figure was closer to 15 percent, he said.
"We're starting to see companies be a little bit more flexible and adaptable to not having the exact right match," Mayer said. "There's lots of good people out there. They just don't have the correct skill set. But they have the willingness to learn."
Mayer expects the trend to continue over the next six months, and QPS is working with employers to develop training programs for inexperienced employees.
Health care companies also are working to fight the talent shortage with training programs.
Goodwill TalentBridge, an employment placement arm of Goodwill Industries, recently partnered with Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare to establish a health care workforce development program called Project Prism.
The program targets candidates who have great customer service and interpersonal skills, then provides instruction on the position's technical skills.
The employee undergoes nine weeks of on-the-job training, including 44 hours of soft, computer and customer service skills and 64 hours of intensive, job-specific training, said Pat Boelter, vice president of marketing for Goodwill Southeast Wisconsin.
"We found that by blending the training classes with new and existing employees, it has strengthened the concept of team and creating a culture around customer service," Boelter said.
Soft skills are golden
ManpowerGroup's report indicates that an employer who is evaluating a potential employee for the "Teachable Fit" should consider the candidate's knowledge, skills, values, mindset, personality and intelligence. Hiring managers should expand the job search to focus on soft skills such as ability to learn, adaptability, critical thinking and work ethic, Holmes said.
"(However,) many employers feel that the applicants that are coming into their organizations don't have the soft skills that are necessary," she said.
When seeking talent, there may be some untapped resources to draw employees from.
Four employee groups that ManpowerGroup says employers should consider are: industry migrants, location migrants, internal role changers and workforce entrants.
Internal role changers are people who are already employees and have the non-negotiable skills, but need additional training, or up-skilling, to fit a new role.
Industry migrants are those who move into a completely different field of work.
ManpowerGroup also encourages employers to look outside the immediate area for top talent. However, location migrants can be more difficult to find because many candidates who are willing to move for work are wary of uprooting a spouse with a paycheck or have been unable to sell their home.
"It's very difficult for people to move in today's world because homes are underwater," Holmes said.
Workforce entrants are those who have the least training and will need intensive development to grow into a role.
In the short-term, employers could consider solutions such as hiring temporary workers to complete work projects and developing a flexible workforce policy, Holmes said.
If it's possible, employers can provide telecommuting from home for employees who do not live nearby.
"In today's world, so many people can work remotely that in many industries, you don't have to live where you work," Holmes said.
Long-term, the key for a company is developing a comprehensive workforce strategy, Holmes said. Evaluate the company, its external situation, the talent currently on staff, the talent needed in the future and how to get it, Holmes said.
Companies also should consider whether they have the capability to teach a particular skill that is missing. ManpowerGroup's "Teachable Fit" framework asks employers to rank the importance and teachability of skills such as problem solving, initiative, technical and planning.
"(Human resources) needs to be in sync with the business strategy to make sure HR knows what the talent needs of the future are so they can work to fill whatever gaps there might be," Holmes said. "The workforce strategy has to be very actionable and very practical."
Walking the talk
ManpowerGroup applies the "Teachable Fit" concept internally by providing a wealth of ongoing evaluation and training, so its own employees remain nimble and adaptable for changing job roles.
"We take development very seriously here – it's part of every manager's role to have a monthly discussion with employees about their development possibilities," Holmes said.
ManpowerGroup currently has 30,000 employees, including 760 in the Milwaukee area. There are currently 200 open positions at the company, said Gelair Gilson, manager of talent and leadership development for the firm.
The company has had difficulty finding skilled talent, so Manpower has been working to adjust traditional job descriptions and train hiring managers worldwide on how to think differently.
"Now we kind of help people think through competency," Gilson said. "What are these competencies that a person needs to be successful in this role? If we think broader, when you're putting the job description (together) or scoping the job, that helps."
During the past three years, ManpowerGroup has consistently been using assessments as part of its employee selection process, Gilson said. The assessments, which include problem solving, patterns and math, evaluate a candidate's competencies and whether they match with what a hiring manager is looking for.
"Those transferrable skills are highlighted a bit more because you're looking at competencies and attributes that are tailored to the role," she said. "There are going to be leaps that we're going to take here, but this is the person."
Once an employee is hired, ManpowerGroup provides 30 to 40 instructor-led classes and more than 6,000 e-learning courses to bridge the skills gap. Leaders can put together blended learning approaches for new hires and existing employees.
Even for a global employment firm such as ManpowerGroup, the speed of business can make it difficult to find the perfect employee by traditional standards.
"It's a constant challenge to find the exact right fit that a lot of hiring managers are looking for," Gilson said.