Armando Garza
September 13, 2018

Talents and skills are closely related, but they’re different in a few important ways. A talent is an innate ability that you’re born with, while a skill is something you learn over time. Numerical reasoning, for example, is an innate ability, whereas accountancy is a skill. Being talented with numbers would give someone the ability to excel in accounting.

Much of today’s labor news focuses on closing the skills gap in today’s workforce. US unemployment rates have fallen to a 17-year low, and members of today’s talented young workforce have more employment options to choose from than ever before. As skilled baby boomers retire, there are fewer qualified young workers to replace them. Thus, US companies still have more than 6 million positions to fill, creating a gap that will continue to grow unless employers do something to stop it.

The Dwindling Skills Trend

The biggest factor driving the growth of the skills gap is the misaligned paths of education students often take after high school. By now, the idea of attending college after high school has been ingrained in the minds of parents and students alike. About 20 years ago, it was true that a college degree almost guaranteed a better job with a higher salary. Today, though, that’s no longer the case. Roughly 44 percent of recent college graduates are underemployed, meaning they don’t need their degrees for the jobs they have. They aren’t putting their education to work, and because that education didn’t align with their talents, they haven’t developed the skills they need to excel.

The more skilled a job is, the bigger the gap becomes. According to a Burning Glass study sponsored by the US Chamber of Commerce, the industries most in need of skilled labor are healthcare, IT, and engineering. Roles in these fields require specialized training and unique skills that most students don’t learn in four years of college.

How Recruiters and HR Can Fill the Gap

The millions of skilled positions currently sitting empty pose a serious problem for the industries that need to fill them. Korn Ferry’s “Global Talent Crunch” report predicts that, globally, the gap could balloon up to “85.2 million unfilled jobs and nearly $8.5 trillion in unrealized revenue” by the year 2030.

If not checked, the skills gap could slow the growth of the entire US market. Fortunately, recruiters and HR departments can take several important steps to fill their own ranks and close the skills gap within their companies:

1. Find the Right Talent Early

A fair share of high school students want to stay in their local areas after graduating, but many of them are bought into the belief that there aren’t enough local jobs. That belief will lead many students to trade pursuing their talents for pursuing an unrelated college education farther from home.

We need to engage students while they’re in high school and reach them before they embark on misguided educational paths. While some might be pondering college, many millennials are skipping it and going straight to work through company-sponsored training programs. That’s partly because they want to stay in their hometowns and partly because pursuing their talents doesn’t always mean pursuing college.

2. Fish From a Different Pond

Employers traditionally hire new employees based on credentials — e.g., college prestige and GPA. While this is a proven model, it won’t help companies find the skills needed for today’s most demanding jobs. Of the 11 fastest-growing occupations, most require less than a bachelor’s degree. That’s why many companies hiring in these fields are implementing apprenticeship programs and experiencing stronger than expected ROI.

Forget about credentials. Instead, fish for talent that is most likely to excel at learning the skills your company needs. Aptitude-based assessments can uncover those talents, and some assessments will even match candidates to their best-fit career paths. These assessments will show you what a diploma and a high GPA can’t: a candidate’s potential to learn and master the skills that your employees need to develop.

3. Build a Talent Pipeline

To keep talent flowing into your company, design a talent pipeline that locates candidates early and helps them master the skills your company needs. Most major corporations put a lot of effort into brand recognition to boost their recruiting efforts, yet few of them routinely search outside the box for the best talent or implement systems to continuously onboard and nurture the talent they recruit.

Build a talent pipeline with the strategic goal of supplying your company with new, highly qualified candidates every year. Take advantage of aptitude tests to fill the pipeline with candidates who have the right talent, and train them in the skills they’ll need in order to excel in your company. You’ll always have a pool of potential employees with just the right aptitudes to fill any skills gaps your company faces.

You might hear talk of the growing “talent gap” that’s impeding company growth. It’s important to remember, though, that employees are not in short supply — it’s the skills that are lacking. With that in mind, you can successfully address the gap by refocusing your attention on finding the right talent so you can help candidates gain the skill sets that your company needs to succeed.

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