In the 70s, 80s and even into the early 90s, organizations had large, robust training departments that provided extensive training for new workers to meet the specific needs of their companies. As budgets tightened and companies constricted, most significantly reduced or eliminated their internal training resources. In a 2012 study by the American Society for Training and Development, 41 percent of companies reported that the main reason for a skills gap in their company was that training investments have been cut or there is a lack of commitment by senior leaders to employee learning and development.
Companies that previously hired workers with basic skills and developed their proprietary skills now expect to hire the complete package. Is this realistic? High schools, colleges and even trade schools are designed to equip students with universal learning, not industry or company-specific skills. Education and prior training can account for 60-75 percent of the needed skill development, but in most cases the final 25-40 percent of skills needed is company or job specific.
In addition, generational differences are often blamed for this gap. Hiring managers tend to be older, while job applicants are often younger. Baby boomers (born 1946-1964) claim that the shorter attention spans, lack of commitment and self-centeredness of Gen X (born 1965-1980) and Gen Y/Millennial (born 1981-2001) workers make them ill-equipped to succeed on the job. Experienced managers complain that entry-level workers are less skilled and unwilling to work as hard as they were when they started their careers 20, 30, even 40 year ago. This is an attribution error. Studies indicate that members of Gen X and Gen Y have equal potential. Older workers had the advantage of learning business skills, professionalism and technical skills on the job through formal training programs. Skill, work ethic and professionalism were communicated and cultivated as they were developed as new employees. Yet today’s new workers are expected to arrive trained in all of those areas by the first day on the job.
How can we bridge this gap to help more individuals go to work and more companies build the workforce they need? As is the case for many problems, the full solution is complex. However, there are some simple strategies that can make a difference:
- Recognize that young workers today have equal potential to those 30 years ago
- Seek to understand and accommodate generational differences
- Be willing to invest in training new employees in the short-term for long-term return
- Recognize that other companies may be experiencing similar challenges. Be willing to pool resources to share the cost of training new workers.
- Seek resources and build partnerships. Many colleges have corporate training arms that exist to meet business training needs. Colleges can help companies form training consortia that deliver short-term, job specific training to skill-up new workers for a lower cost.
Michelle Giovannozzi is the director of Corporate and Community Partnerships at Clark College. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.