Following the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics March Jobs Report, HR Dive asked Becky Frankiewicz, President of ManpowerGroup North America, about the talent shortage and how employers are responding.
In this Q&A, she discusses the importance of upskilling — but also why it's not the one and only answer to solving the skills gap. Questions and answers have been edited for clarity and length.
HR Dive: In this challenging market, what are companies doing to address skills gaps in both soft skills and traditional skills?
Becky Frankiewicz: We are in a skills revolution where 46% of U.S. employers face difficulty filling open roles, according to our most recent Talent Shortage Survey. In this environment, exacerbated by less than 1% population growth in the United States, it is clear that training and development must be part of your talent strategy.
In our latest Employment Outlook Survey we found that 91% of U.S. employers plan to maintain or increase their headcount due to digitalization over the next two years. That means that, at least in the near-term, most employers will need to focus on upskilling their existing workforce and supplementing it with additional skills – it's the way from here to there.
If we take collective action to help develop the right blend of technical and soft skills, people will augment rather than compete with technology and employers will be able to find and nurture the talent they need for the open jobs.
Upskilling the workforce and building employability will be the solution to the skills revolution. The skills revolution is leading to a renewed focus on human development inside companies.
HR Dive: We're hearing employers say that they're hiring first and training later. Are you seeing the same thing?
Frankiewicz: We’ve seen a marked rise in the number of businesses focusing on training and developing their current staff to fill talent gaps. This number doubled between 2015 and 2016: Nearly two-thirds of employers are investing in internal training to keep skills up to date. We expect this number will continue to grow as businesses try to retain their brightest and best amidst this talent shortage.
If we take collective action to help develop the right blend of technical and soft skills, people will augment rather than compete with technology
President, ManpowerGroup North America
Employers today are looking for the best blend of hard and soft skills. For example, we found that 60% of U.S. companies planning to increase their headcount in IT roles are prioritizing finding candidates with strong communications skills. Close behind are "problem solving" and "collaboration," indicating that even among IT staff, employers need people who are both high tech and high touch. Some of that is what people bring to the organization, but much can be learned on the job too.
HR Dive: How are employers going about achieving this?
Frankiewicz: The critical starting point is hiring for and creating a culture of learnability – the desire and ability to develop in-demand skills. Given how fast jobs are changing, employability is less about what people already know and more about their capacity to learn. When you start with a workforce that's hungry to develop their knowledge and skills, training dollars go a lot farther and can have a faster impact on the business.
Typically, the most successful development programs identify populations with relevant adjacent skills that can be easily adapted, developed and applied to these new roles. That way, rather than upskilling people from scratch, employers can help them bridge from one skill set into another.
For example, to meet growing demand for automation controls technicians in advanced manufacturing, ManpowerGroup recently partnered with Rockwell Automation to recruit and upskill military veterans with strong technical backgrounds. We were able to condense a six-to eight-month course into just 12 weeks by starting with a group that already had an adjacent skill set, and we saw positive results.
HR Dive: Are there pros and cons to undertaking these efforts?
Frankiewicz: People want training and development, so offering upskilling programs is a way of both producing the necessary skills and retaining your talent. As competition for talent keeps heating up, organizations that aren't training will end up poaching talent and having it poached, paying higher premiums each time.
It can take time to create an effective upskilling pipeline. If you need the skills urgently, you may have to pay for the talent and there's always the chance that the people you train will leave and go work for your competitor.
In all future scenarios, helping people to upskill in this fast-changing world of work will be what ensures their employability and produces skilled workers for in-demand jobs in the short and long-term. Investing in people is also a way to increase retention. Training and development will become central again in companies across the nation as a point of difference and investment.
HR Dive: Could upskilling be enough to close the skills gap, or will it have to take place alongside other efforts?
Frankiewicz: We have to work collectively to close the skills gap. We must identify skills adjacencies that create clear career paths from education to employment, from this job to that job. We need accelerated reskilling programs with faster, shorter bursts of on-the-job, experiential training.
We also need to help people work the way they choose. People are consuming work the way they consume in the rest of their lives. People are choosing nextgen work to balance work and home, earn more and upskill.