Skilled Worker Shortage to Worsen

Companies can take steps to avoid crisis

By Greg Wright December 27, 2012

The shortage of high-tech and other skilled workers in the United States will worsen over the next decade, and companies will find themselves scrambling to find innovative ways to hire and retain qualified workers, according to HR experts and a report from global management consulting firm McKinsey & Company.

Companies can hold on to their skilled workers by holding more in-house training programs and providing incentives to retiring workers so they’ll remain on the payroll, experts said.

“Effectively closing the gap will require a smart set of solutions that approach the root causes from all angles,” said Tim Wasserman, chief learning officer at IPS Learning, a McLean, Va., company that trains project managers and executives.​

Technological advancements, industrialization and an increase in open global trade have helped create millions more high-skilled and higher wage jobs around the world, according to McKinsey. Unfortunately, there are not enough workers to fill them.

Wanted: More College Grads

McKinsey Global Institute, the research branch of McKinsey, said the world could have 40 million too few college-educated workers by 2020. In the United States and other developed economies in North America and Europe, companies will require 16 to 18 million more college-educated workers than will be available in 2020, the report said.

“This skills shortage, particularly for high-tech skills, has existed in the United States for some time now,” said Tracy McCarthy, SPHR, senior vice president of human resources at SilkRoad technology, a Chicago-based global provider of cloud-based human capital management software.

“If you look at the number of H-1B visa holders, you’ll find the majority are for high-tech skilled workers such as engineers,” McCarthy said.

Ironically, the shortage of qualified workers is apparent, even though unemployment in the United States remains relatively high in the aftermath of the Great Recession, said Chris Caldon, senior vice president at Peoplefluent, a Waltham, Mass., company that provides mobile, social and cloud-based talent management solutions.

Some high-tech jobs have gone unfilled for more than six months because companies cannot find qualified people to fill them, he said.

Solutions Abound

To combat the shortage, experts said companies can:

Adopt formal training and mentoring programs to prepare workers already on staff to take on more complex tasks.

Use a rotational job system so employees learn more than one skill set.

Explore partnering with local colleges and technical schools to groom future employees.

Provide more training.

“There needs to be a fundamental shift from ‘buy the skills on the market’ to ‘build the skills in-house,’ ” McCarthy said.

Companies should also make their workplaces a good place to work so skilled employees are less likely to leave for greener pastures, Caldon and McCarthy concurred.

For instance, companies could become more flexible about employee schedules and allow employees more options to improve work/life balance.

“The greatest challenge for any employer is to ensure they attract and retain employees who have great employability skills and, in return, provide a great culture where people want to join and stay,” McCarthy said. “Without this, most of the technical skill gaps are a moot point.”

Greg Wright is a Washington, D.C.-based freelance writer who has covered Congress, consumer electronics and international trade for major news organizations, including Gannett News Service/USA Today, Dow Jones and Knight-Ridder Financial News. He may be reached at


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