Survey: Qualified Workers Are Harder to Find

HR needs to make a business case for more-robust talent acquisition budgets and strategies.

By Jen Schramm Jun 1, 2016
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​Photo by iStock.

It’s not easy finding good employees these days. In fact, companies are facing the most challenging market for talent in years, according to a new Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) survey report released in June at the SHRM 2016 Annual Conference & Exposition in Washington, D.C.

The two industries reporting the highest levels of recruiting difficulty were health/social assistance and manufacturing, but HR professionals across all fields are having more trouble finding skilled workers than they were just three years ago. In 2016, 68 percent have reported difficulty recruiting full-time staff. That’s up significantly from 50 percent in 2013.

It’s not surprising that capable employees are harder to find as the pace of hiring picks up and the unemployment rate drops. But would-be employees just don’t appear to be the right fit for many of the open positions.

The top reasons HR professionals say they are having difficulty filling open jobs are:

  • A low number of applicants.
  • A lack of needed work experience.
  • Competition from other employers.
  • A dearth of technical skills.
  • A shortage of qualified candidates in local markets.

Complicating the situation, hiring managers and organizational leaders often are not fully aware of just how difficult it is to fill vacancies. That means it is up to HR professionals to build a solid business case for larger talent acquisition budgets that can be used to invest in internal and external recruiters or, in some cases, higher pay to attract hard-to-find candidates.

Social media was the most common method the respondents reported using to meet recruiting challenges. However, the approach they considered to be most effective was the training of existing employees to take on hard-to-fill roles. To that end, HR practitioners also must make the case within their organizations about the importance of preparing workers to take on critical open roles. That’s especially important because, according to the survey results, applicants are sorely missing several critical skills.

Would-Be Workers Lack Critical Skills

Job applicants lack basic skills and knowledge, according to 59 percent of HR professionals. The top reported skills shortages were:

  • Writing in English.
  • Basic computer skills.
  • Speaking English.
  • Reading comprehension.
  • Mathematics.

Meanwhile, 84 percent of HR practitioners reported finding candidates deficient in several applied skills. The leading applied skills shortages were:

  • Critical thinking/problem-solving.
  • Professionalism/work ethic.
  • Leadership.
  • Written communications.
  • Teamwork/collaboration.

Surprisingly, despite ongoing skills shortages, the survey found that it is not uncommon for HR professionals to work without a training budget. In fact, almost one-third of respondents reported that their organizations did not have one over the last 12 months. To counter that, smaller organizations or those with limited funds may benefit from taking advantage of available government and industry resources, such as the public workforce system or registered apprenticeship programs.

HR departments in every industry will be critical to bridging skills gaps because of their unique and important insight into the labor market and the skills, education and credentials that are most needed by employers. Many are already taking the lead by convincing their organization to invest in education and training to close skills shortfalls and build a stronger talent pipeline. Those who lag run the risk of losing out on the talent their organizations need to thrive.

Jen Schramm is manager of the Workforce Trends program at SHRM.

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