The Jobs Blog: Key Is Skill Sets

By Joseph Coombs Dec 2, 2011


Never mind the latest failure by Congress to combat the ever-growing U.S. budget deficit. While it’s sure to be a focal point of the political blame game heading toward Election Day 2012, the loudest dissension will continue to be the call to put more Americans back to work. In fact, some analysts, such as the Economic Policy Institute’s Doug Hall, say the congressional “supercommittee” should have turned its attention to job creation all along.

There are some areas of the country that have experienced some degree of recovery, however.

For example, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the greater Washington, D.C., metropolitan labor market had a 6.1 percent in unemployment rate in September 2011, or a full 3 points below the national rate of 9.1 percent for that month.

But does that mean the area’s immune from this mess? Hardly. Many job seekers in the region still lack the skills needed for open positions, and some of them are perhaps a little overconfident that they’ll land a gig easily in one of the nation’s strongest job markets, said one local expert.


What skill deficits plague your organization’s applicant pools? If you care to share, e-mail


“There are many professionals out of work here who simply do not know how to promote themselves,” said David Remick, executive director of the Alexandria/Arlington (Virginia) Workforce Investment Board, a government commission charged with supporting the employment and training needs of local employers. “On an interview, they’ll get asked, ‘Why do you want to work here?’ and they say, ‘Because I want a job.’ They get passed over pretty quickly.”

What many job seekers also don’t realize, Remick said, is that current U.S. economic productivity is very similar to levels reached just prior to the recession of 2007-09. The difference in late 2011 is that there are millions more people out of work.

“Basically, the economy is doing the same amount of business with fewer people,” Remick said. “So what’s the issue? Some people are just not set up to be part of this workforce, and that has to change.”

It’s true that many of the 8 million jobs lost during the recession are not coming back because of decreased demand or technological changes that have rendered them obsolete. The good news is, some of them are in fact returning to the economy; more than half (58 percent) of organizations that are hiring full-time workers in late 2011 are making direct replacements of jobs that were eliminated during the Great Recession, according to new Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) data.

The bad news speaks to the concerns of Remick and others charged with matching job seekers with available positions. According to the SHRM survey, 15 percent of companies are creating jobs that require completely new skill sets for the jobs they lost during the recession, and 57 percent are seeking a mix of new and similar skills for those jobs.

So what are recruiters looking for? You might be surprised. They say the most common skill deficiencies in applicants are writing in English (48 percent), mathematics (38 percent), reading comprehension (30 percent) and speaking in English (30 percent).

Joseph Coombs is SHRM’s workplace trends and forecasting specialist. He can be reached at

Related Articles

STEM Programs Aim to Build Needed Workforce Skills, SHRM Online Staffing Management Discipline, Nov. 16, 2011

Employers Struggle to Find Qualified Applicants, SHRM Online Staffing Management Discipline, Nov. 7, 2011

Related Resource

SHRM Online Labor Market & Economic Data resource page

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