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Closing the Skills Gap

Minding the Gap: New Initiative Takes On Workforce Skills Shortage

Among today’s most baffling unexplained mysteries – the disappearance of Amelia Earhart, who killed Kennedy, the ongoing success of ‘Two and a Half Men’ – there’s one that is dominating the news lately: Despite the fact that more than 14 million people are unemployed, there remain 3.2 million job openings in America.

The reason for this discrepancy, many experts believe, is that today’s workers simply don’t have the skills employers need to fill these positions – and it’s leading to what’s commonly referred to as a skills gap.

While many workers have taken it upon themselves to go back to school and learn the in-demand skills employers are hiring for, many believe the burden shouldn’t fall on workers alone. “Corporate America needs to spend to train the workers it needs,” CNBC’s Brian Sullivan recently said. He’s not the only one who believes it’s up to businesses to do their part to reskill workers. CareerBuilder CEO Matt Ferguson recently wrote an editorial for Harvard Business Review suggesting ways American businesses can navigate the skills gap, one of which would be to invest in employee training and development.

Training workers may not prove to be the final answer to the unemployment problem, but it may be one answer, and that’s exactly the theory CareerBuilder is testing out now with the launch of a new job skills project.

“The focus for the project was ‘What can we do to bridge the skills gap?’” says Rosemary Haefner, vice president of human resources at CareerBuilder, of what sparked the idea for the recent initiative to provide free training for those hoping to switch careers or re-enter the workforce.

Not knowing exactly where to start, Haefner and other executives sought feedback from CareerBuilder employees, asking them to submit ideas for ways the company could contribute to job growth. After evaluating the responses, the company’s leadership team ultimately decided to concentrate its efforts on two different areas: reskilling workers for the industries most in need of help right now, and helping former military personnel make the transition to the civilian workforce.

“There’s a high demand for people with high skill sets, so we thought if we could take a group of individuals and give them concentrated skills, they would have what they need to at least get an entry-level position,” Haefner says.

Today, CareerBuilder is three months in to a six month commitment to provide currently unemployed workers –including former military personnel – basic skills that might help them find jobs in that field at the end of the program. While the premise may sound like that of an early-90s MTV reality show (this is the true story, of 10 workers, picked to learn IT skills, to find out what happens…), the hope is ultimately to create a model businesses can replicate to bridge the skills gap at their own organizations and across the country.

“Our initial goal was simply to test out the concept that, in fields within the U.S. that have a shortage now, it’s not unattainable for individuals looking for work right now to get the skills employers need. We wanted to provide training to help them get employed. Now, the objective is, is this model something that can be replicated? Companies are already calling us to find out how we’re doing it.”

After generating responses from an advertisement on CareerBuilder.com, conducting screenings and interviews, Haefner and others chose a class of 10 individuals – half of whom were in the military trying to find new position, and many of whom were on long-term unemployment but who possessed basic skill sets – to participate in the project.

They modeled the program to resemble something like a paid internship, comprised of a combination of classroom education and on-the-job training. Technology employees based in CareerBuilder’s Norcross office work alongside the individuals to provide hands-on training, but employees also attend classes led by a third-party company. Participants are learning technical skills as well as the business intelligence skills and career placement advice that will support their efforts to find employment down the road.

A Worthwhile Investment
While Haefner contends that the initiative requires an investment up front, she believes that it’s one that will pay off down the road. “There’s always a cost to hiring. And there’s always a cost to training,” she says. “With this program, you’re molding clay right from the beginning, plus, you’re getting some value back, particularly in terms of labor costs. When you break it down, in six months you’re getting fully functioning employees who have the skills you need and are versed in your culture.”

While companies might be hesitant to pay more up front than what they normally are used to paying for training, Haefner argues that they’re also getting labor out of it, too.  Another argument Haefner is quick to address is the fear companies have that these workers will still end up leaving them in the end.

“There’s never any guarantee that a new hire will work out,” she says. In fact, if anything, these types of programs might actually increase retention. “What usually doesn’t work out with new hires is the cultural fit, and with this type of program, the chances are even better it WILL work out because you’re training them within your culture.”

While the program has three months to go before completion, Haefner is confident that, if nothing else, this program will prove to be a valuable learning experience – as much for CareerBuilder as for the workers participating in the program.

“So far, we’ve learned it’s really important to be transparent about your goals. We tell the participants, ‘We can’t guarantee you’re going to have a job when this is over, but you’ll have these skills that are in demand right now, and that will increase your chances of finding a job elsewhere.’”

Employers discuss how job seekers can meet them halfway
CareerBuilder recently asked various hiring managers to offer their advice on how job seekers can increase their chances of getting hired by learning the skills employers need most right now. See their responses below. What advice would you add?