Tackling the Skills Gap

by Rachel Vilsack

You’ve probably heard or read this before, but some employers are expressing difficulty in finding workers with the right skills for the jobs they have available. This has prompted many organizations like the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU) system and the Governor’s Workforce Development Council to address how the education system, in particular, can better prepare the workforce for future jobs. This week, we’ll be considering the issues – what the experts say, what the data say, and what it means for job seekers.


Understanding the Issue

It sounds simple enough. An employer looks for a worker to fill an open position and is unable to find someone with the right qualifications. Whether you call it a skills gap or a skills shortage, the idea is the same. There is a perceived mismatch between the people looking for work and the employers looking for workers. To be clear, this may not mean that the job goes unfilled. It may indicate that the hiring process for an employer takes longer because few people apply, or those that do apply do not meet the qualifications. Employers may also adjust their job requirements or expand their job search parameters.


Think Like an Employer

The skills gap doesn’t just affect employers; it impacts job seekers in a number of ways. First, it may be discouraging to hear about. There are over 150,000 job seekers in Minnesota right now, and suggesting that they are no skilled workers available does not send a positive message to the many thousands of highly skilled and qualified workers who have not found a job.  But perhaps more positively, it provides an opportunity for job seekers to think more like an employer. Here’s how:


If you’re not networking with professionals, businesses, or experts in your field of expertise, you are missing out. Instead of just filling out job applications online, find out what employers actually need to see if your skills to meet those needs. A job posting will tell you some information, but knowing more about the company and how you can directly contribute is key.


Some job postings are simply not attractive. It might be the location of the employer, the wages offered, or the hours of work. You might be searching for a job that is within a short commute from your home, one that offers daytime hours, or is in an industry you’re familiar with. That’s okay, but you are probably missing out on opportunities. Just like an employer who readjusts their strategy when something isn’t working, are there any preferences you can relax to expand your search?


The mechanisms – including on-line applications and resume software – for matching employers and candidates have changed. You may be screened out of a job that you are qualified for if you don’t meet 100 percent of the requirements set forth by the employer, or don’t use key words from the position description. If you are passionate about a job opening, you may need to do more than just fill out an online application. Sell your expertise in a cover letter or resume that you send directly to the hiring manager. Maybe you want to contact the hiring manager by phone before applying. Can you learn anything else about the job that will make your skills stand out?


I posed this question to someone I know who will be hiring for several positions very soon.

Question: Let’s say someone contacts you because they saw a position posted online and wants to ask you more detailed questions about what the job entailed, beyond what was available in the job description. Maybe they indicate that they are trying to determine if their skill set or experience would fit. Would you averse to speaking to the person? Would you think differently of the person if he/she became a legitimate candidate for the job?


Answer: Yes, I would speak to the person and could also potentially think differently of the person because they had such initiative, though I would probably make some sort of conscious effort to not be “swayed.”  If things came down to two candidates with equally good credentials, I might pick the one who purposely sought me out for information and applied.  That would have shown some initiative!


Think like an employer and sell your product – you!


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