That gap came back

Believe it or not, the skills gap is back.

If you’re under the impression that the skills gap never went away, you must have missed the spate of articles at the beginning of the year declaring, like a article, that the skills gap was a big fat lie.

But here we are in September, and a pair of reports is telling us that the skills gap is, indeed, very real. And some companies are having a hard time dealing with it.

One of the reports was released by IBM, based on years of research. “The enterprise guide to closing the skills gap” is based on surveys of thousands of global executives representing multiple industries in dozens of countries, as well as performance benchmarking data from hundreds of organizations globally.

The IBM report notes that the skills gap is not necessarily a shortage of workers (although last year the US found itself with more job openings than unemployed adults), but a shortage of workers with the right skills.

And the pace of change in technical areas keeps getting faster, which renders skills obsolete more quickly than ever. IBM notes that the half-life of skills – the amount of time it takes for the value of skills to decline by half – was once 10 to 15 years. Now, the company says, a technical skill learned today will be half as valuable in five years or less.

If that’s not scary enough, training takes longer today. According to IBM, in 2014, the median time it took to close a capability gap through training was three days. In 2018 (yes, just four years later), the median was 36 days.

The other report, “Closing the Skills Gap 2019,” was released by Wiley Education Services and was based on survey results from 600 human resources leaders in the US. Along with finding that the skills gap is 12 percent larger than a year ago, the report found that the pace of technological change is the most-often cited cause of the skills gap.

But the Wiley report presents an even gloomier view of the length of time that skills are valuable than IBM. The Wiley report found that a significant share of employers – 40 percent – estimate that a skill is usable for four years or less.

The solution? Some companies are paying to “upskill” employees, either offering tuition reimbursement or other ways to cover at least some of the cost of training employees in the skills that are needed. Others are talking about paying.

Yet another solution for filling the skills gap is to use staff augmentation. As Chris Walters, Senior Vice President, LRS Consulting Services, noted, staffing companies like ours are constantly engaged in seeking IT consultants with specialized skills.

“Companies facing a lack of candidates with the necessary skills may be surprised to learn that numerous skilled workers prefer contingent work to being hired as a full-time employee,” Chris said. “Smart companies make use of those workers and their skills to get specific projects completed without worrying about the need to upskill them down the road.”

And those companies return to the consultant pool when specific skills are needed for the next project, finding a way to bridge the gap.