SHRM Poll: Skills Gap Makes Engineering, Medical and Technical Jobs Difficult to Fill


November 7, 2011

SHRM Poll: Skills Gap Makes Engineering, Medical and Technical Jobs Difficult to Fill
HR professionals find problem-solving and communication skills missing in some job applicants

Alexandria, Va., Nov. 7, 2011 — More than one-half of organizations are having difficulty finding skilled workers for specific job openings, with engineering, medical, technical and executive positions especially hard to fill, according to a new poll by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).

SHRM’s poll — The Ongoing Impact of the Recession — Recruiting and Skill Gaps — takes a detailed look into what SHRM’s Leading Indicators of National Employment® has reported this year — that industries in both the manufacturing and service sectors are having a tough time finding skilled workers for some of their job openings.

Fifty-two percent of respondents said their organizations were having a difficult time recruiting for specific jobs. High-tech companies (71 percent) and manufacturers (68 percent) were more likely to be having difficulty than financial firms (49 percent). Professional services (59 percent), and construction, mining, oil and gas companies (51 percent) reported a harder time than state and local governments (33 percent) and the federal government (31 percent).

“American businesses are facing a paradox — high unemployment and the inability to fill key jobs in their organizations,” said Mark Schmit, vice president for research at SHRM. “Our research shows that gaps between unemployed American workers’ skills and those required for open jobs in the United States are a major reason for this seemingly unlikely contradiction. It follows logically that if key jobs cannot be filled in organizations, then other less critical jobs requiring less skill cannot be created either because the organizations’ growth potential is stunted. Thus, the cycle of low or no job growth continues.”

What are the most difficult jobs to fill? The organizations that reported difficulty recruiting said: Engineers (with 88 percent of those respondents saying the position was somewhat or very difficult to fill); high-skilled medical positions (86 percent); high-skilled technical positions (85 percent); scientists (83 percent); and managers and executives (78 percent).

HR professionals at organizations having difficulty recruiting also reported gaps in basic knowledge and skills in job applicants. The top four skills gaps were: critical thinking/problem-solving (with 54 percent of those respondents saying that job applicants typically lack that skill); professionalism/work ethic (44 percent); written communication (41 percent); and leadership (39 percent).

The most common gaps in basic knowledge skills were:

  • Writing in English
  • Mathematics
  • Reading comprehension
  • Speaking in English

The poll of more than 2,280 randomly selected HR professionals looked at eight industries: construction oil, mining and gas; federal government; finance; health; manufacturing; state and local government; professional services; and high-tech. Over the next several months, SHRM will release industry-specific results on the skills gap.

These findings are the first in a series about the ongoing impact of the recession. Results to be released in the coming months will look at overall financial health and hiring, and global competition and hiring strategies.

For more information on the poll findings, visit the SHRM Research webpage. Follow the Research Department on Twitter @SHRM_Research and SHRM Media Relations @SHRMPress.

Media: For more information or to schedule an interview about the poll, contact Kate Kennedy of SHRM Media Relations at 703-535-6260 and or Julie Malveaux at and 703-535-6273.

About the Society for Human Resource Management
The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) is the world’s largest association devoted to human resource management. Representing more than 250,000 members in more than 140 countries, the Society serves the needs of HR professionals and advances the interests of the HR profession. Founded in 1948, SHRM has more than 575 affiliated chapters within the United States and subsidiary offices in China and India. Visit SHRM Online at
and follow us on Twitter @SHRMPress.


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