The Skills Gap Talent Trajectory

Jeff Frey | Technology Solutions Director – Houston, TX

Situation Analysis
One of the greatest challenges being taken on by employers, universities, and young talent today is the growing skills gap in technology.

Employers, rightly so, want to fill their ranks with talent who possess specific degrees, years of experience, power skills (formerly known as soft skills), emotional intelligence, problem solving capabilities, communication, leadership skills and – oh yes – the technology skills specific to their company needs. In some cases, employers are willing to give on a couple of those, or provide on the job training and mentoring, but many do not for risk of the extra investment in an employee who may not work out or stay.

While universities continue to evolve their curriculum, they remain steady in providing the fundamental degree plans and foundational skills expected of them. However, they cannot in many cases impart learning in the specific technologies employers are using. Universities are also inconsistent in incorporating learning in the power skills areas employers are looking for in their new hires. Even university supplied internships do not count as “professional experience” in employers’ eyes.

As a result, the responsibility for work preparedness now falls on the young talent. The time they have spent earning their degree, at internships, and in jobs typically held to pay for college is valuable, but not enough to land them a career launching position. Students turn to extracurricular activities and the already graduated turn to groups, organizations or volunteerism to gain the skills and foster the qualities employers seek. These include things like problem solving, communication, and leadership skills as well as emotional intelligence. Unfortunately, these approaches have unpredictable outcomes and provide questionable value for the young talent that pursue them. Other early career individuals seek to bridge the gap through fee-based learning programs, sometimes increasing their financial burdens to the point that their investments may not provide reasonable returns in the near or even long term.

Does higher education prepare people for technology jobs?
The answer is yes, but not fully. Higher education addresses the partial needs of employers, but cannot be all things to all people. As quickly as the university amends its technology trajectory to address any specific needs of employers, the needs will change. Most higher education trend experts would agree that there is more to be done to groom students for the working world, and while much has been done, the underlying problem remains. The simple realization is that the university provides a great foundation for learning and the fundamentals of education, but students need to receive more practical knowledge to truly be work ready.

The Employer Conundrum
The classic problem of experience being required for a job that requires you working the job to gain the experience is truer today than ever in the technology and STEM fields at large. Employers craft job descriptions that focus on degrees, skills, competencies, and most importantly, experience. But, why? What is magical about time passing which makes employers think it necessary? One would hope that an employee was learning on the job, developing emotional intelligence, and understanding how to be a model employee. The truth is, many individuals in their first jobs are given menial tasks, not immediately accepted into the flow of corporate culture, and not given adequate coaching and mentoring. So, is this job description getting the employer the talented people they need? The fact is that a specific degree along with “1 to 3 years of experience” does not truly prepare new employees for their roles. Training programs offered by companies to develop young talent have all but disappeared further allowing the skills gap to grow wider.

The University-Employer Gap Solution
College students today question the value of their education, but the reality is that the field of education has changed and now needs to encompass more. Research shows that within technology career tracks, graduates become immediately underemployed (the state of being in a job that does not utilize one’s skills and abilities) and remain so for up to five years. Graduates recognize that they are lacking the power skills and emotional intelligence required to be work ready, but don’t know where to turn to acquire the missing pieces. Graduates are not exempt from the experience for job/job for experience issue.

When asked by employers for advice, I tell them to look closely at their model employees and identify the degrees, technologies, and skills they truly need; knowing that they could replace some of these with surrogates (if you know technology X, you should be able to quickly use technology Y).

I meet with many universities who ask me about their curriculum, and I say it starts with recruitment and building a student body which is motivated, adaptable, and has high emotional intelligence. Then continue to teach the technology fundamentals but infuse their learning experience with the latest trends when and where they can.

My interaction with new talent then is focused on assisting them in assessing their skills acquired at university, their work experience, and comparing that to their ideal job… creating their own personal skills gap and forming action plans to close that gap.

Ultimately, a cooperative approach is required to solve these important problems of skills gaps, underemployment, and shrinking supply of viable talent for critical roles. A holistic approach which involves employers, universities, and early career talent partnering with innovative organizations designed to provide the missing last-mile education is the optimal solution.

About Talent Path
Talent Path brings last-mile education for early career talent together with clients in need of technology professionals to fill critical roles. We hire top graduates in key academic disciplines, then provide them with specific learning experiences in sought-after technology skill sets. Talent Path consultants are work ready day one and able to step into roles possessing both the technical and power skills to succeed long term.

Talent Path is a division of Genuent, one of the nation’s leading technology staffing & solutions firms. Founded in 2006, Genuent has played a key role in sourcing, staffing, hiring, and developing technology resources within clients of all sizes and industries.