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Addressing the Skills Gap: The 10 Best Takeaways from Close It 2013

the_close_it_summit_2013“Talent is the only sustainable competitive edge we have. We need to create awareness around the skills needed and invest in communities,” said Mike Barriere, executive vice president of Human Resources and Environment, Health & Safety at Alcoa, during inaugural Close It Summit, held last week in Washington, D.C. The three-day event brought together hiring professionals from across the nation to discuss the challenges employers face in closing the skills gap and explore new ways to meet these challenges. CareerBuilder, whose Empowering Employment initiative is aligned with many of the ideas discussed, was a proud sponsor of the event, and I had the privilege to attend. For those who didn’t, I’ve included my favorite takeaways from the event (but feel free to chime in with your own in the comments below):

The 10 Best Takeaways from the 2013 Close It Summit:

  1. Know where the gaps are. “If you don’t have a clear view of where the gaps are [in your own workforce, it’s hard to acquire a skill set you need,” said Andrew Jackson, deputy assistant secretary for Technology, Information & Business Services at the U.S. Department of the Interior. Jackson explained how, before his department created a job shadowing program to supplement their talent needs, they “took a step back and…took a concrete approach to identify gaps in our workforce.” Jim Gulezian, human resources director at Zodiac Aerospace, made a similar point when he said, “HR need to get out from behind the job descriptions and truly understand the key competencies of that job.”
  2. Work with educational institutions. Once you’ve identified the skills your business needs, you can help ensure future workers are obtaining these critical stills by partnering with the educational institutions you depend on to source talent. “Degrees must align with the skills businesses have identified as essential,” said panelist Patricia Buhler, a management professor at Goldey-Beacom College during a session titled, “To What Degree Do Degrees Matter?”
  3. Look beyond the degree. According to Merrilea Mayo, the chief information and research officer at Innovate+Educate, one of the most important skills a worker can have are not taught in school. Mayo’s research has found that cognitive skill level is the single best measure for predicting performance, outweighing even degree and level of education. “If you’re only looking at degrees, you’re missing out on a huge pool of untapped talent,” Mayo said at one point.
  4. If you can’t find skills you need, create them yourself. Many companies are taking the initiative to train workers themselves – from working with community centers to provide skills training for the long-term unemployed or underemployed, to creating internal mentoring programs, internships and apprenticeships. “We go into communities where talent isn’t available, and we go in and train,” said Barriere of Alcoa’s “long-term but sustainable business model” for developing and engaging local talent, and preparing them for the workforce of tomorrow. AmeriHealth Caritas takes a similar approach, focusing on reskilling the unemployed and underemployed members of the community. “We have made a deliberate effort to bring people in who represent their community… and give them the support to build the skills they need over time,” said Karen Dale, executive director of AmeriHealth District of Columbia, in a session about building talent pipelines.
  5. Be willing to take a risk. Bringing in the right talent in today’s competitive labor market requires changing the way we think about hiring. Change, however, often involves risk. “If you change and do something a little more creative, will that put you at more risk?” said Nancy Delogu, a lawyer and shareholder at Littler Mendelson. “Or are you at the same level of risk you’re at now, but with the possible huge payoff of finding great new talent?” In other words, great risks can result in great rewards, but at the very least, they’ll provide an opportunity to learn and grow; otherwise, if you’re not changing, you’re not progressing.
  6. If you don’t like what people are saying, change the conversation. “We have an image problem,” said Wendi Safstrom of the National Restaurant Association Education Foundation, of the lack of awareness around the long-term career opportunities that exist in the restaurant industry. In order to help combat this challenge, the NRA created ProStart, a nationwide program to teach future workers about careers in restaurant management and culinary arts “and train students in industry-specific and transferable skills.” Employers in any industry where there’s a misconception around career opportunities could learn by the NRA’s example, and take the opportunity to reach out and find a way to change those misconceptions.
  7. Form meaningful partnerships. “Through collaboration, anything is possible,” said Las Cruces Chamber of Commerce President Bill Allen during his Summit keynote. Collaboration was a prevalent theme at the event, with several speakers focusing on the importance of the importance of partnering with the local educational institutions. “Only 13 percent of local businesses actually partner with their local workforce board,” said Cook County Illinois Board President Toni Preckwinkle during a Q&A session. “We have to work with businesses to understand their needs. We need to figure out how we can be more responsive to the business community.”
  8. Find the system that works for you. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution to navigating the skills gap, so organizations need to decide for themselves the strategy that makes the most sense for them and their long-term goals. Take, for instance, the U.S. Department of the Interior’s process. According to Jackson, “We had to decide if we needed to grow from the outside or build from within.  We started with a blank slate. This talent management system we built started with questions we had to answer.” Jackson says they also created a review board to provide them with an external perspective and further insight.
  9. Retain the talent you have by putting people first. “Your employees will know if you’re not sincere about your commitment to them. It’s important that you are authentic; otherwise, it’s demoralizing,” said Jackson. Jackson attributes his department’s high retention rates to the confidence employees have in the organization’s commitment to their current and future well-being.
  10. Treat talent development as any other business initiative. “As an engineering company, we focus on processes for product development, but when it comes to talent acquisition, the process part drops off the table,” admitted Gulezian at one point. It was this realization that compelled Zodiac Aerospace’s executive team to create a strategic process around talent acquisition – one that enabled the company to build a stronger, more competitive workforce. “Bottom line: for all processes that we have in place for product development, we need to treat developing skill sets the same way.”

Much like Barriere said, the talent you have in place is your company’s most competitive asset; therefore, it makes sense to put as much energy and resources into acquiring and developing that talent as any other crucial business initiative. Did you attend the Close It Summit? What were your top takeaways?

Mary Lorenz

About Mary Lorenz

Mary is a copywriter for CareerBuilder, specializing in B2B marketing and corporate recruiting best practices and social media. In addition to creating copy for corporate advertising and marketing campaigns, she researches and writes about employee attraction, engagement and retention. Whenever possible, she makes references to pop culture. Sometimes, those references are even relevant. A New Orleans native, Mary now lives in Chicago, right down the street from the best sushi place in the city. It's awesome.

I followed two jobs  I applied to, through the process and found one position for accounting manager a person hired was a cpa and job hopper. Another position an accounting supervisor had a masters degree in taxation and no experience.  I am an accounting manager with 12+ years experience and a bachelors degree.  Neither position requires an advance degree or credential, unless the job title doesn't match the functions.  That appears to be one good part of the skills gap.  It's an employers market with a chronically high unemployment rate.


I'd like to know of one skills gap employers are having for lets say the following accounting positions; staff accountant and senior accountant?


Thanks for your post Mary - you touch on quite a few aspects to help reduce it. I personally think that training your current staff so they're equipped to deal with any problems that arise is really important. CompTIA discuss and offer insights on how certified staff are more productive and reduce company downtime, you may be interested in this?

cbforemployers moderator

@jde1 Our research did not dive into this specifically, but we found employers saying the skills applicants most often lack are job-specific in nature. Furthermore, 44 percent of employers stated they have a hard time filling open positions in accounting/finance. More details about this study can be found here:


  1. […] CareerBuilder says it best in their November 14th, 2013 post. Read it here. […]

  2. […] Nearly 2 in 5 say the number of jobs in their profession aren’t nearly what they used to be prior to the recession. Tip: Consider widening the net of potential candidates who might be a good fit for your company and offer options to close the skills gap. […]

  3. […] 2. Closing the skills gap. The president briefly touched on the need to close the skills gap for ready-to-fill jobs through techniques such as offering more on-the-job training, more apprenticeships and partnering with community colleges to train people to get up to speed. Fortunately, our recent research shows that 1 in 2 employers will train new hires to close the skills gap instead of waiting around endlessly for qualified candidates. If you’re trying to close the skills gap in your company, here are 10 useful tips. […]

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