There’s no denying that the skills gap is a growing concern for employers, but there may be some dispute as to when it begins. Common misconceptions could be that the skills gap occurs during the college years, as students aren’t equipped with the necessary experience to enter the workforce qualified to do a job. Some may also think it begins as workers gain more years of experience but fail to maintain their knowledge of current technologies, processes or industry knowledge. However, the skills gap actually begins in high school, far before a worker even declares a major or takes on their first full time job.
Many of our nation’s schools have been declining for years, and we’re feeling the effects of it in the worst ways now. As budgets are cut, classes are packed and students become more disinterested than ever, fewer and fewer students are leaving high school prepared for college or a career. In fact, ACT’s newest annual report revealed that only 25 percent of high school graduates who took the ACT test have the knowledge and skills in math, science, reading and English to succeed in the real world. This means that three quarters of high school graduates are unprepared for a career or even college when they graduate.
For those students who go on to obtain a college education, you can anticipate that some of that skills gap will be closed, but the fact is that only 25 percent of college students received a solid educational foundation, leaving the other 75 percent at a disadvantage. For those who hire for positions requiring only a high school diploma, you would also anticipate that experience would assist in closing the skills gap, but again the fact remains that all too often, workers bring with them a skills gap that has to be remedied.
Be slow to point fingers
It’s easy to place blame on one of the many scapegoats available, but it’s not as simple as “this or that is to blame,” or “It’s his/her fault.” There are many factors that contribute to why so many high school graduates are entering the workforce ill equipped. Some are educational, some are social, some familial or geographical and even still, there are probably some that we have yet to identify as contributing factors. I have seen blame placed on career counselors whose knowledge is out of date, funding cuts of school programs, a lack of students interested in math and science and a lack of teaching on technology. While these might all have their place among reasons we have so many high school graduates entering our businesses not ready to do a job, no one thing is to blame.
Just as no one single thing is to blame for the skills gap, no one solution is going to fix it. The skills gap may begin in high school but it is a long-term issue that you’ll likely deal with throughout your human resources career. It affects your ability to hire, retain and train professionals at a level that offers your company maximum productivity. Some say that government assistance is needed to improve schools so they can provide educational opportunities to students. Others say it’s a lack of motivation that plagues today’s students, while I also hear buzz about the responsibilities that businesses have in shaping young people while they are still in school so they are more prepared to enter the workforce or go to college. As HR professionals, there are also things that we can do to assist students in creating resumes, learning job skills or at the very least learning which skills to focus on.
Do you or your company have involvement in helping to close the skills gap of young people before they enter the workforce? Let us know in the comments below.