Weekly Wrap: Skills Gap? What If Everyone Feels They Have Great Skills?

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We hear a lot about job skills — mainly, how so many American workers don’t spend enough time developing them — and how the lack of skills is what is holding many back from getting hired.

Employers have been claiming there is a skill gap problem, but what if the very people who are looking to get hired don’t believe there is a problem at all?

That’s what some new research seemed to show this week, when The Udemy Skills Gap Index, an independent survey commissioned by online learning company Udemy, reported that although 61 percent of Americans believe that the current workforce has a skills gap, they but don’t see themselves as part of the problem.

“It’s not me — it’s you”

In fact, 95 percent feel they are qualified or over qualified for the positions they currently hold.

As the summary of the research puts it:

One thing is clear: when it comes to the skills gap, most Americans think “it’s not me – it’s you.” Americans have heard of the skills gap and believe that it exists, but do not see gaps in their own skill sets. This presents a challenge to employers who are struggling to find workers to fill open positions. If Americans do not realize they have a problem, how can they take steps to correct it?”

That’s a good question; how DO you solve a problem if you don’t think you have one?

A gender disconnect and a generation gap

The Udemy Skills Gap Index also found that;

  • There’s a gender disconnect – There is a measurable gender disconnect in perceptions of the skills gap exists, with 68 percent of men believing in its existence as compared to 55 percent of women.
  • The role of higher education fades  – While almost half of Americans say their higher education helped them get their first job, more than a third believe they use less than 10 percent of what they learned in college in the workplace.
  • Yes, we have a generation gap  A majority of Millennials (53 percent) feel that they have already mastered the skills their jobs require of them, as compared to 43 percent of Baby Boomers.
  • Job seekers need motivation  Some 36 percent of people seeking a new job report taking no extra action (such as taking an online course, attending networking events or visiting a recruiter) to boost their chances of getting hired

“These findings indicate that despite a widespread recognition that the skills gap exists, American employees share an ‘It’s not me, it’s you” mentality,” said Dennis Yang, CEO of Udemy in a press release about the study.

He added: “The data also shows that while higher education may be effective at helping individuals score their first job, skills and knowledge learned at academic institutions become obsolete as Americans change professions and skill-set requirements change. We’re beginning to see workers take ownership of their own skill-set development with particular emphasis on developing technology skills, but in today’s competitive economic climate, it’s simply not enough.”

Businesses aren’t investing in training, either

If you believe this survey, Americans are delusional about their current skills, believing that they are a lot more qualified than they really are. But there’s another factor that also keeps popping up: businesses don’t spend much on training anymore, expecting new employees to pretty much be ready to go from Day 1 even though most people don’t believe that is a reasonable expectation.

Just last month, Businessweek  reported on some work done by Peter Cappelli, a well-known management professor at The Wharton School. The magazine notes that Cappelli points to data suggesting that in 1979, young workers received on average about 2.5 weeks of training per year. That dropped quickly:

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By 1991, Census data found only 17 percent of all employees reporting that they received any formal training that year. Several surveys of employers around 1995 indicate that somewhere between 42 and 90 percent of employers offered some training (the lower number indicating more programmatic training) with the amount of training an individual received per year averaging just under 11 hours. The most common training topic was workplace safety. Those figures also include what vendors provide when they bring in new equipment: “Here’s how to work this copier.”

The worst of both worlds

Businessweek adds that by 2011, an Accenture survey of U.S. employees found that only 21 percent had received any employer-provided formal training in the past five years. “That means almost 80 percent had no training in five years,” Cappelli wrote.

In other words, we kind of have the worst of both worlds — a large number of overconfident employees who believe they have mastered  the skills needed for their job, and, a business culture that now largely ignores any meaningful training and expects employees to come to the job with up-to-date skills in hand.

Neither of these are good trends, and they may explain the frustrations on both sides of the hiring equation — how workers are frustrated they can’t find new jobs, and employers complaining that they can’t find workers with the requisite skills needed to fill those jobs.

Clearly, something has got to give, and it seems to me that more employer investment in training is going to be needed to really break this logjam and help to grow more employees with the skill sets needs to do the jobs at hand.

The Udemy Skills Gap Index research was conducted by ResearchNow, which surveyed 1,000 Americans from Aug. 15-18, 201 between the ages of 18 and 65 on their thoughts, perceptions and attitudes toward the skills they believe they possess as well as how these skills impact their professional lives. The margin of error for this study is +/- 3 percent.

Of course, there’s more than the latest survey on workforce skills going on this week. Here are some HR and workplace-related items you may have missed. This is TLNT’s weekly round-up of news, trends, and insights from the world of talent management. I do it so you don’t have to.

  • At IBM, employees get training – and a pay cut. The New York Times Bits blog reported this week  that, “some workers in the company’s outsourcing business received emails informing them of the program. It stated that “a recent assessment” had identified workers who “have not kept pace with acquiring the skills and expertise needed to address changing client needs, technology and market requirements.” The email then added, “You have been identified as one of these employees.” The training is intended to take about a day a week, up to a total of 23 days. During that time, the email stated, “you will receive 90 percent of your current base salary.” The Times adds that, “Employees receiving the offer are given little choice, other than to look elsewhere in the company “for opportunities for which your skills may be a better match.”
  • United paying up to $100k for flight attendants who quit. USA Today reports that United Airlines “reached a deal with the flight attendants’ union to offer up to $100,000 in severance for workers who leave the company. United spokeswoman Megan McCarthy said … the airline hopes that at least 2,100 of its 23,000 flight attendants will accept. … Airlines and other companies use early-out bonuses to entice employees — especially senior, more expensive ones — to leave and be replaced by entry-level workers.”
  • Keeping competitors from poaching your people. The New York Times You’re the Boss blog recently dug into the issue of how to keep employees from jumping ship and going to your competitors. It’s an interesting read with some fascinating strategies, and as the blog notes, “This problem is not going away. Whether they are in Silicon Valley or New York or Atlanta or anywhere in between, when entrepreneurs gather, they talk about how hard and how expensive it is to hire real talent, especially top computer engineers. I have no doubt this problem is going to get worse before it gets better. The number of Millennials entering the workforce does not match the number of baby boomers leaving it, and these crucial positions already have an unemployment rate of less than zero. And if it’s a problem for Apple and Google, you can imagine how hard it is for a fast-growth start-up.”

John Hollon is Editor-at-Large at ERE Media and was the founding Editor of TLNT.com. A longtime newspaper, magazine, and business journal editor, John has deep roots in the talent management space. He's the former Editor of Workforce Management magazine and workforce.com, served as Editor of RecruitingDaily, and was Vice President for Content at HR technology firm Checkster. An award-winning journalist, John has written extensively about HR, talent management, leadership, and smart business practices, including for the popular Fistful of Talent blog. Contact him at johnhollon@ere.net, connect with him on LinkedIn, or follow him on Twitter @johnhollon.

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