Sometimes I feel as if I’m a glutton for punishment when conducting research on large issues related to workforce development (WFD). I find myself saving reports and articles in what is an already overflowing favorites folder on WFD. As I pick one topic to focus on, I see other articles and reports that apply to other WFD-related topics, and soon I’m going through an enormous number of websites, creating new folders and subfolders within subfolders. This happened, for instance, when recently roaming through the broad topic of the “skills gap in the twenty-first century.”
How in the world could I lasso this topic and point to some of the most relevant literature? Here’s my best shot at it. Please feel free to contact me through the contact page
at the Workforce Monitor website and send me your thoughts on the skills gap in the twenty-first century.
This being only the second issue of the Workforce Monitor newsletter, I’m very much in an early stage of figuring out how to best present syntheses of big topics in an easy-to-read, terse, and crisp format. Please feel free to send any ideas you may want to share.
Thank you in advance for your kind consideration.
So, here goes:
Perhaps the best place to start on the skills gap is to focus on one word: “resilience.” Resilience gets us through the toughest of times. Emsi, a labor market data company, took this word and turned it into a report
titled “Resilient Skills: The Survivor Skills That the Class of COVID-19 Should Pursue.”
Emsi defines a resilient worker as someone who is both a generalist and a specialist, using the analogy of a fox (knows many things) and a hedgehog (knows one thing). The report than analyzes four categories where resiliency comes into play: human skills, technical skills, core business functions, and hard-to-find skills.
We’re obviously living during a volatile time due to the impact of COVID (referred to by Emsi as a “wicked environment”). Such times call for human skills that coincide with the liberal arts. Human skills convey abilities in areas such as communications, philosophy, and problem solving. Emsi posted a chart of the top six human skills sought out by employers based on job postings in March-July 2020. Communications was number one at 35%. Management came next at 19%. Leadership was number three at 13%. Problem solving came in at 11%. Teamwork came in at 4%, and critical thinking placed sixth at 2%.
Most college graduates have human skills they fine-tuned as students. Their humanness helps them to at least get interviewed for a meaningful job. Human skills are in broad demand not only in such areas as teaching, art, restaurant and hospitality, and retail industries, for example, but also in technology and engineering jobs, which leads us to resilient technical skills.
Emsi puts technical skills under two categories: “technology (tech) skills that help you make new products,” and “core business skills that help you market and sell those skills and operate the business.” Both categories work hand in glove. Emsi points to four areas of technical skills: programming languages, software development, data science and analytics, and IT systems. Growth of technical skills are projected to grow by 10% into 2024.
Software development skills are sought out pretty much across the board in most industries. Emsi listed transportation, takeout, groceries, banking, and communications as some of the industries needing skilled software developers, particularly in the apps arena.
Emsi showed that requests for software development skills appear in 9% of job postings, with agile software development listed at number one, followed by software engineering, software development, scripting, debugging, Angular (web framework), front-end engineering, full stack software engineering, and Kubernetes.
Data science and analytics reveal the raw-data results of software development. “The unseen work of storing, managing analyzing, and interpreting this data is likely to grow, given the IDC’s prediction that by 2021, worldwide data usage will increase by 61% from 33 to 175 zettabyes,” Emsi writes.
Requests for data science and analytics skills appear in 6% of job postings, with SQL (programming language) listed at number one, followed by Microsoft Azure, data warehousing, machine learning, cloud computing, and Tableau.
Information technology systems “is an umbrella term for the systems, people and processes designed to create, store, manipulate, distribute and disseminate information. The field of information systems bridges business and computer science,” as defined by Florida Tech
Requests for sills in information technology systems appear in 3% of job postings, with Amazon web services listed at number one, followed by telecommunications, cybersecurity, and authorization (computing).
Core business functions
Emsi says that core business skills are prevalent in sales, marketing, finance, and operational oversight. Moreover, “businesses have a voracious appetite for workers who can execute” in these categories, which comprise “54% of the top ten careers.”
Requests for sales jobs stretch across 23% of job posts, with merchandising listed at number one, followed by selling techniques, customer experience, customer satisfaction, and customer relationship management rounding out the top five categories.
Requests for marketing jobs come in at 3% of job posts, with key performance indicators listed at number one, followed by business requirements, go-to-market strategy, and product marketing.
Accounting and finance jobs comprise 16% of job posts, with accounting listed at number one, followed by budgeting, loans, financial statements, and collections rounding out the top five categories.
Operations jobs are 23% of job posts, with operations listed at number one, followed by organizational skills, purchasing, forecasting, and business development.
Emsi defined hard-to-find skills as those in high demand and low in supply. Some of the largest skills gaps chronicled under the hard-to-find category include jobs calling for skills in key performance indicators, a progress tracking framework; Tableau data visualization software; interpersonal communication; persuasive communication; content creation; certified information system auditing; certified information systems security; relational databases; data compilation; data visualizations; and statistics.
Finally, Emsi offered hope to “educational institutions as they work to build programs (be they more oriented to foxes or hedgehogs) that are both relevant and valuable in today’s economy and as they work to communicate with students about what to pursue in this wicked economy.”
More on skills gap specifics from Degreed
Now let’s get into more specific examples of the skills gap with a synopsis of “The State of Skills 2021: Endangered,”
a report by Degreed, “an upskilling platform that connects learning to opportunities.” As noted, in part, within Degreed’s creatively written manifesto
, this company exists “to discover, empower, and recognize the next generation of the world’s expertise. The smartest, brightest, and most bold, the tenacious, willing, the unsung heroes, self-taught, the scrappy, driven, the passionate, daring, the unafraid. Experts.”
Degreed surveyed more than 5,000 workers, team managers, and business leaders and then organized their research to help employers and employees “focus their limited energy and investments on developing the most urgent skills.” They found that “demand is strongest for technological skills. However, they are also looking to develop their social and cognitive skills.”
Degreed asked survey participants “to select up to five skills they’d most like to develop from a taxonomy of 25 skills developed by McKinsey Global Institute for their 2018 study
, ‘Skill shift: Automation and the future of the workforce.’” Out of this, they developed a good number of well-designed and sophisticated graphs, tables, and illustrations throughout the report - labeled by industry, job roles, and countries - listed within three broad categories:
- The supply and demand for skills are shifting.
- COVID-19 is endangering workforce skills.
- It’s not just skills at risk – it’s people, communities, and businesses.
Under supply and demand for skills, the following ten in-demand skills for 2021 were listed:
- Advanced IT and programming
- Leadership and managing others
- Advanced communication and negotiation
- Entrepreneurship and initiative-taking
- Project management
- Advanced data analysis and mathematics
- Critical thinking and decision making
- Adaptability and continuous learning
- Technology design and engineering
Degreed then asked whether or not folks knew what skills they actually had, along with where they thought the most up-to-date data about their skills existed. In addition to illustrating results of these two questions, they had both good news and bad news. The good news was that “only 21% of workers believe the most up-to-date data about their skills exists in online networks and communities like Linkedin, Twitter, Dribbble, or GitHub; and 34% think it’s in their employers’ HR systems.” The bad news was that “more than a quarter (27%) of workers believe the most up-to-date data on their skills is hidden inside documents like resumes and CVs. Another 18% say real-time information on their skills doesn’t exist anywhere.”
It was also noted that “there is no system of record for skills.” White technology can illuminate skills, “data indicates that efficient data architectures and advanced AI are not enough to fill in all the gaps in conventional HR processes.” The report then showed “how data on people’s skills gets into HR systems (and how it doesn’t).”
Under the second category of how COVID-19 is endangering workforce skills, Degreed explained how “the global health and economic crisis has had three big impacts on the state of skills,” as follows:
- It’s accelerating the need for new skills: “Six-in-ten say COVID-19 and the resulting economic crisis have accelerated their need to acquire new skills.”
- It’s reducing opportunities for upskilling and reskilling: “Nearly half of workers (46%) say their employers have reduced upskilling and reskilling opportunities during the pandemic.”
- It’s making the workforce more stressed and vulnerable: “Nearly half (46%) of workers, managers, and business leaders believe their core job skills will be obsolete within five years. More than 36% expect their core job skills to decay within three years.”
Under the third category of people, communities and businesses at risk, Degreed delineated each:
People: We’re stressed out. “More than half of workers globally (55%) say that as confidence in their skills decreases, their stress levels increase.”
Communities: Stress compounds. “Stress doesn’t just affect those people and their families. It compounds into weaker consumer demand and adds new pressures on already strained communities and local governments.”
Businesses: There’s bad news. “Anxiety and stress over skills can also impede workers’ productivity and performance, and intensify ‘people costs’ like wellness, absences, and turnover. And that’s bad for business.”
In short, mental health and wellness are at risk; productivity and performance are at risk; retention and recovery are at risk; and employer brands and trust are at risk.
To wrap things up, Degreed declared that “hands can’t hit what eyes can’t see.” In other words, things change so rapidly in a constantly evolving world that it becomes difficult to keep our eyes on the fast ball coming at us. As we deal with change, “some skills decay in value while others grow and new ones emerge. And that means we all need to pay closer attention to the skills we have and the ones we need next.” Download Degreed’s report and explore their data.
I’d like to conclude this synthesis on a hopeful note, as presented in an EdSurge article
headlined “COVID-19 Has Widened the Skills Gap. But It Also Presents an Opportunity to Close It,”
written by Vera Song.
Song provides an overview of how these challenging times are impacting businesses and college graduates, explaining how in spring of 2020, jobs that require a college degree declined, resulting in graduates “now competing against millions of experienced workers who have been sidelined due to the pandemic.” In addition, “while employers want experience, no one wants to be the first to provide it.”
Song further explains that as employees now work from home more than ever before, we’re seeing digital transformations, such as cloud adoption and cybersecurity, taking place throughout a vast swath of today’s workforce, with new waves of demand for software engineering, data analytic, and digital marketing skills (as reported by both Emsi and Degreed). However, as noted by Gartner
in January 2020, “half of all planned cloud migrations will be delayed by two years or more due to the lack of trained talent.”
There’s more. Companies are experiencing negative economic impacts as 50 percent of newly hired, entry-level college graduates drop out of their jobs within two years, while simultaneously the overall skills gap continues to drain the U.S. economy.
Song says that employers basically have two choices. “They could wait for higher-ed institutions to jump through bureaucratic hoops, overcome budget constraints, and fundamentally change their approach to preparing students for their fifth jobs rather than their first.” Or, they can “meet colleges and universities at least halfway by building and providing last-mile training for motivated candidates who show general aptitude but lack requisite digital skills and business knowledge.”
Song adds that investing in last-mile training can bring about higher retention rates for employers (as well as increase enrollments at colleges and universities), pointing to a 2019 LinkedIn Workforce Learning report
that showed how 94 percent of employees would stay longer with employers that invest in helping them learn. Some companies are meeting this challenge, such as, for example, Salesforce, Amazon, Optimum, and Genuent. But “employers won’t bridge the gap by themselves. Colleges and universities are likely to evolve to be more focused on employment outcomes—and they will do so under duress,” Song writes. This evolving focus will result in higher education creating new educational pathways and more positive socioeconomic opportunities for today’s college students.
In the end, the message is clear: Keep the faith and move forward.
Stay tuned for another synthesis on more erudite literature on the skills gap in the next issue of Workforce Monitor.
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