Skills Gaps Affecting Some Jobs, Industries More than Others


By Theresa Minton-Eversole April 2, 2013

Two-thirds of surveyed organizations that are hiring full-time staff indicate that they are having a difficult time recruiting for specific job openings, according to survey results released in March by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). This is an increase from 52 percent of responding organizations that reported having recruiting difficulties in a similar 2011 poll.

In the third quarter of 2012, researchers for the SHRM Poll: The Ongoing Impact of the Recession—Recruiting and Skill Gaps surveyed more than 3,400 HR professionals randomly chosen from the Society’s membership, asking them questions about their organizations’ difficulties with finding the skilled workers they need. A majority of respondents (64 percent) reported their organizations operate in multiple locations. However, 76 percent noted they have U.S.-based operations only; 24 percent were multinationals.

Key Skills Sought that Job Applicants Lack

When asked to name the most common skills gaps they encounter in recruiting, responding HR professionals noted critical thinking/problem-solving (53 percent), professionalism/work ethic (46 percent), written communications (41 percent) and leadership (38 percent) as the top applied skill sets that job applicants lack. In addition, they noted the following as the most common gaps in basic skills:

Writing in English (55 percent).

Math (38 percent).

Reading comprehension (31 percent).

Speaking in English (29 percent).

Respondents identified the following high-skilled positions as most difficult to fill:

Scientists (88 percent).

Engineers (86 percent).

Technicians and programmers (85 percent).

High-skilled medical (for example, nurses, doctors, specialists) (83 percent).

Managers and executives (77 percent).

The high-tech and manufacturing industries are most likely to be having recruiting difficulties for certain types of full-time, highly skilled positions, followed by the construction, mining, oil and gas, professional services, finance and health industries. The federal government as well as state or local governments are the least likely to be having recruiting difficulties because of workforce skills gaps, though this might be because these sectors plan to recruit significantly less during 2013 than the other sectors. Still, one-half of respondents who reported hiring in the federal government (50percent) and state/local governments (52 percent) are having difficulty recruiting.

Technology Driving Recruitment, Workforce Development

While a majority of organizations (59 percent) reported not having made major technology changes in the past 12 months, 30 percent of organizations indicated that they had made major strategic changes involving the use of technology that affected employees’ work. An additional 10 percent of respondents also reported they plan to implement technology changes in the next 12 months.

Although 72 percent of responding organizations indicated these technological changes would require new skills, they would not require hiring new staff. Eighteen percent indicated employees would require the same skills; 10 percent reported they would need to hire new staff for the new skills that would be required.

Skills shortages, however, are putting renewed emphasis on training. In the years ahead, HR professionals will need to work with their organizational leaders and relevant education and training bodies to invest in education and training as a way to meet skills shortfalls, particularly in industries that face significant Baby Boomer retirements, SHRM poll results show. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) forecasts a decreasing overall labor force from 2010 to 2020. With the Baby Boomers leaving the workforce, replacement needs will exceed new job growth vacancies in four out of five occupations.

HR professionals also might need to work more closely with their organizational leaders to come up with more effective compensation packages for hard-to-fill positions, such as STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) jobs, SHRM research shows.

The poll, released March 12, 2013, is one in a series of three surveys that examine the continuing impact of the global recession of 2007-09. The other two polls in the series focus on global competition and hiring strategies and organizations’ overall financial health and hiring.

Theresa Minton-Eversoleis an online editor/manager for SHRM.

Related Articles

California Manufacturers Try to Bridge Skills Gap, SHRM Online Legal Issues-State and Local Resources, March 2013

Poll: Job Market, Financial Health of Employers Continue to Improve, HR News, March 2013

Uncertainty—Not Just Skills Gap—Slows Economy, Experts Testify, SHRM Online Staffing Management, April 2012

Will Skills Gap Chill a Warming Job Market?, SHRM Online Staffing Management, April 2012

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