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How to Bridge the Skills Gap with Smart Hiring and Training

The  United States is facing a growing skills gap that threatens the nation's long-term economic prosperity. The workforce simply does not have enough workers and skilled candidates to fill an ever-increasing number of high-skill jobs. Because a high-quality workforce is the most important determinant of business success, challenges related to hiring the best people have a direct influence on an organization's competitiveness today and in the future.

SHRM President and Chief Executive Officer Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP, discusses the challenges facing organizations globally—and how employers and government can be part of the solution—with The Hershey Co.'s Chief Human Resources Officer Kevin Walling.

To address the skills shortage, employers need a world-class, highly skilled workforce. This will require recruiting from nontraditional labor pools, training workers, collaborating with educational institutions to improve graduate employability and competing globally for top talent. This guide provides steps employers can take to implement these practices.

Step 1: Identify Overlooked Talent Pools

One way employers can work to address today's talent challenges is by tapping into nontraditional and increasingly diverse talent pools, including the following:

Older workers. Older adults are a valuable source of talent for organizations today. Mature workers have honed experience and skills over decades of employment. Many have pursued further education and expanded their skill sets during their careers and in periods of unemployment or underemployment. Retaining talented mature workers—and recruiting new ones—is simply good business for most organizations.

Formerly incarcerated individuals. The idea of recruiting and hiring people with criminal backgrounds—known as second-chance hiring—is gaining traction. A nationwide study commissioned by SHRM and the Charles Koch Institute found that, while people with criminal records face additional scrutiny during the hiring process, many employees, managers and HR professionals are open to working with and hiring people with criminal histories.

Individuals with disabilities. Companies that succeed in incorporating candidates with disabilities into their workforce have seen higher revenue, higher net income, reduced turnover, lower recruiting costs, increased productivity and improved customer outreach. Employers should ensure that hiring people with disabilities is part of their overall hiring strategy.

Global talent. Hiring foreign-born workers can be extremely effective and may be the right choice for highly specialized positions that can take months or years to fill if only domestic candidates are being considered.

Veterans. Employers that successfully attract and hire veterans in their workplaces find that veterans often outperform other employees and stay with the organization longer than the median length of service. 

Step 2: Refocus Your Recruitment Mindset


Give opportunities to qualified people with criminal records who are deserving of a second chance.



Recruiters, HR and hiring managers, eager to avoid the costs of making a bad hiring decision, often identify potential red flags in resumes, including age, criminal history, disabilities and immigration status. To avoid missing out on skilled talent, implement the following practices:

  • Focus on the knowledge, skills and abilities you seek for the position when reviewing resumes and job applications. Older workers often possess years of experience, job knowledge and polished skills, for example, and veterans have highly transferable skills such as leadership, teamwork and attention to detail that can benefit most employers. 
  • Recognize other nontangible skills that a candidate may possess, such as drive, loyalty, a desire to succeed and a sense of purpose. Look for a passion and willingness to learn.
  • Give applicants a chance to tell their stories by asking for cover letters, prerecorded video interviews or short questionnaires.
  • Change the way you think about diversity. In addition to racial and gender diversity, consider socioeconomic diversity, age diversity and other factors. 
  • Be open to considering resumes from career changers or other nontraditional candidates. Rather than setting aside those resumes, analyze the skills and experience obtained through a previous job or through other experiences described on the resume.

Step 3: Revise Your Hiring Procedures

In addition to looking critically at how you review resumes, examining hiring procedures will help ensure that your organization is not overlooking skilled talent. Here are some suggestions:

  • Focus job advertisements on the desired knowledge, skills and abilities for the particular job rather than education, experience or other requirements that may not be necessary. Advertisements should encourage all interested parties to apply and should indicate hiring preferences without discouraging any particular individuals from applying. See What should employers consider when determining if a job requires a college degree?
  • Make your careers website usable for people with disabilities. See Developing Accessible Jobs Websites.
  • Periodically review your application software to make sure you are searching for relevant information and not inadvertently screening out resumes of individuals who can positively contribute to your organization. Conduct a spot check of applicants the screening software rejected to identify qualified candidates that may have fallen through the cracks, and revise software keyword algorithms as necessary. For example, job titles can vary greatly for similar work experience; ensuring that your technology recognizes synonyms for common jobs or skills is critical.
  • Ensure that qualified job candidates are provided an opportunity to explain why they would be the best fit for your job opening. Understanding an applicant's history and current motivation is more critical now than ever. For example, ask "What skills do you have that make you the best candidate for this position? Include any special training you have had, such as on-the-job, college, military, seminars, reading and related work experience."
  • Eliminate barriers such as criminal history checks or pre-employment tests when they aren't an absolute requirement and have the potential to exclude qualified individuals. For example, state legislatures are moving to help former criminals find work after they've served their time by implementing "ban-the-box" laws that require hiring managers to delay asking about a candidate's criminal history until after an interview has been conducted or a provisional job offer has been extended.
  • Utilize specialty job boards and tools to source and recruit from diverse candidate pools. The Employer Assistance and Resource Network on Disability Inclusion (EARN) supports employers in their efforts to recruit, hire, retain and advance qualified individuals with disabilities, for example, and AARP has a job board for recruiting an age-diverse workforce.

Step 4: Train Your Hiring Teams

After reviewing hiring procedures, recruiters, HR and hiring managers should be trained on how to review resumes and conduct interviews in a way that qualified talent is not overlooked. Ensure that those involved in the hiring process can identify the knowledge, skills and abilities (KSAs) of candidates or engage in conversations with candidates to translate KSAs to the current workplace and job opening.

SHRM offers resources that provide information on military culture and will better equip HR professionals and employers in hiring, onboarding and retaining former service members. The Veterans at Work Certificate Program is a SHRM Foundation education program for HR professionals that focuses on best practices to attract, hire and retain veterans.

SHRM Specialty Credentials allow HR professionals to demonstrate targeted competence in several key areas, including talent acquisition and U.S. employment immigration.

Sample PowerPoint presentation templates on topics such as effective interviewing are also available on the SHRM website

Step 5: Create or Expand Training Programs

Employers may want to consider creating partnerships with local academic institutions and other entities such as technical schools and certificate programs. These partnerships have the benefit of providing an employer with an applicant pool that is gaining the skills the employer needs. If you want even stronger applicants from these institutions, provide the program with materials, examples or case studies from your organization. This will result in candidates who are more knowledgeable about and a better fit for your company. The more information you provide, the better suited the programs will be to address your needs and the better the candidates will be for your organization.

U.S. Department of Labor (DOL)-registered apprenticeship programs are those that have met national standards for registration with the DOL or an approved state apprenticeship agency. Businesses that register their apprenticeship programs with the DOL can access many benefits, including a nationwide network of expertise and support at no cost, tax credits in many states, and funding and other resources from federal programs. See A Quick-Start Toolkit - Building Registered Apprenticeship Programs


Don't overlook high school students who are in the midst of making career decisions and education plans. Promoting employment opportunities for students and high school graduates, as well as creating training programs that teach desired skills to this younger generation, can boost a company's reputation as well as increase the number of qualified applicants. Employers can reach out to administrators at local schools or the Board of Education to initiate the relationship and determine how a partnership can be established.

Jobs for America's Graduates (JAG) is a state-based national nonprofit organization dedicated to preventing dropouts among young people who have serious barriers to graduation and/or employment. Currently, over 1,200 JAG programs operate in more than thirty states. Employers can become involved by mentoring program participants and/or hiring graduates of JAG programs. 

Many organizations and job seekers are turning to local, state and federal government programs for training and skills development. A number of these resources serve employers and job seekers simultaneously. 

Step 6: Network with Resources in Your Community

Employers may uncover underused talent pools by actively seeking out community resources and networking opportunities. Examples include the following:

  • Host an open house or informational event inviting job seekers through various advertising mediums (e.g., social media, billboards) to learn more about your organization while giving you an opportunity to talk with them in a more relaxed setting. These programs have the added benefit of raising your organization's profile in the community. Online job fairs and hiring events are also an effective way to reach individuals who may not be able to take time away from their current job but could engage remotely during a lunch period or commute.
  • Find creative networking opportunities such as Thrival, a technology and innovation music conference and festival, or DeveloperWeek, a developer expo and tech conference. Search the Web for events in your area or network within your local SHRM chapter to learn of similar opportunities.
  • Reach out to your local CareerOneStop centers. These government-based employment programs serve all types of businesses and job seekers, including unemployed youth and veterans. They may be sources of good candidates with recent training acquired through the programs.
  • Locate and invest in creative training programs for underserved populations, such as prison inmates or individuals with autism.
  • Invest in relationships with colleges and universities to help identify top talent, teach classes, or offer seminars and internships.


  1. Make the connection and designate a point of contact.
  2. Understand each other's needs and capabilities.
  3. Set goals for both the business and the community college.
  4. Agree on what resources will be used and how long you're willing to make a commitment.
  5. Bring in additional partners to help reach the goals (if needed).
  6. Set requirements for the participants.
  7. Determine the resources needed to sustain the partnership in the long term.
  8. Know and show the value within your company and the institution.
  9. Grow the partnership to other company locations.
  10. Set measures to inform program success and share your story.

Source: The Aspen Institute. 

For more information on this model and the benefits of community college partnerships, see Skilled Trades Playbook: Dynamic Partnerships for a New Economy.


Step 7: Understand When and How to Utilize Foreign Talent

Foreign-born talent is a necessary complement to the U.S. workforce, especially as the U.S. labor market faces an aging workforce and record low unemployment. According to SHRM's Skills Gap and Immigration Report, over 85% of respondents feel that it is very or extremely important to recruit talent to meet business needs, regardless of the individuals' national origin.

SHRM research shows that while it is not the only solution to bridge the skills gap and help employers staff difficult-to-fill positions, hiring foreign-born workers can be extremely effective and may be the right choice for highly specialized positions that can take months or years to fill if only domestic candidates are considered. By conducting a skills gap analysis, employers can identify the positions within their organizations that could potentially be filled with foreign talent.

One potential group of overlooked talent are individuals who have been granted refugee status in the United States. The government grants refugee and asylee status to people from other countries who have been persecuted or fear persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. A refugee may work immediately upon arrival to the U.S. and because of their status, refugees' permission to work does not expire. These individuals bring a wealth of skills and abilities and an eagerness to find meaningful work in the U.S. See U.S. Employers' Guide to Hiring Refugees and Refugees and Asylees Have the Right to Work.

The U.S. immigration system is extremely complex, and employers must fully understand the process for obtaining work authorization for foreign-born workers. In addition, companies with a significant need to recruit outside of the U.S. should become involved in initiatives for immigration reform that will allow U.S. employers to hire the necessary skilled workers. Follow SHRM's Policy Action Center or join SHRM's Advocacy Team to get involved today. 

Step 8: Identify Available Tax Credits

Employers can benefit by taking advantage of tax credits and other incentives for hiring from certain groups such as veterans and individuals with disabilities.

The Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC) is a federal tax credit available to employers for hiring individuals from certain targeted groups who have consistently faced significant barriers to employment. 

The Department of Veterans Affairs' Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment (VR&E) program works to match veterans with employers and offers incentives such as salary subsidies, salary reimbursement and assistive technology.

See also:

Tax Benefits for Businesses Who Have Employees with Disabilities


Additional Skills Gap Resources:


20 Unique Ideas for Finding Talent

How to Attract and Support Neurodiverse Talent

Scaling Up Skills

The Blue-Collar Drought

Where can employers find qualified applicants with disabilities?


Employing Individuals with Criminal Records

SHRM Foundation: Employing Veterans Digital Toolkit

Creating a Mental Health-Friendly Workplace

Employing People with Cognitive Disabilities

Employing Older Workers

Recruiting Internally and Externally


Untapped Talent

Getting Talent Back to Work

Second Chance Hiring from the Consumer Perspective

Unlocking the Potential of the Veteran Workforce