by Teri Fritsma
When employers have difficulty filling positions, does it mean that there aren’t enough qualified people to take the position? Not always, says a new study on skills mismatches released by the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development. Sometimes there are skills mismatches, but sometimes the difficulties are the result of demand-side conditions like an unattractive compensation package, the location of work, or the hours or shift of work. Most commonly, though, hiring difficulties are the result of a mix of both supply and demand-side conditions.
The study looks at skills mismatches in three occupational groups: licensed nursing professions, industrial engineering, and select manufacturing occupations. These occupations were chosen for study because there has been some evidence of shortages in these fields. Based on in-depth interviews with over 200 Minnesota employers about over 1,500 job vacancies, the findings showed:
- While employers reported general hiring difficulties in 45 percent of vacancies, just 15 percent of all vacancies were hard-to-fill solely because the supply of candidates didn’t have the right skills, education, or experience for the position (skills mismatches).
- Incidents of skills mismatches were more commonly found in:
- Vacancies requiring a high school degree or less compared to higher education levels. Lack of work experience and/or skills were driving these mismatches, as opposed to lack of formal education.
- Vacancies requiring some (up to three years of) work experience compared to both higher and lower levels of experience.
- Skills mismatches were equally common in Greater Minnesota and the Twin Cities metro.
- They were more common in the three production occupations included in the study than either in either nursing or industrial engineering occupations.
- When employers discussed what they were looking for but not finding, it was often skills or a combination of skills that they associated with work experience. This was particularly true in nursing and engineering occupations.
- In production occupations, which had the highest incidence of hiring difficulties in general and skills mismatches in particular, employers frequently said that the problem was a lack of supply because of general disinterest in production work—i.e., an “image problem.” This suggests that one of the solutions might be career information and education at the K-12 level.
What are some possible solutions for the skills mismatches reported in this research? Since employers often pointed to skills or work experience being lacking, one possibility is more internships or similar work-based learning opportunities might help. Importantly, though, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all fix that will work equally well across all industries. The best solutions will be occupation- or industry-specific and responsive to the needs in each particular sector.
For more information about skills mismatches in Minnesota, see the report (pdf).