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Skills Shortage Tightens Job Market

HR professionals say immigration process and other public policy improvements are needed.

A fresh survey of human resource professionals shows that the job markets have tightened further largely because the general population’s skills gap has grown worse. Those asked also said certain public policy changes could help.

Those were the results of a poll of HR professionals conducted last September by the Society for Human Resource Management. Among the findings were that 83% of HR professionals who responded said they had difficulty recruiting suitable candidates in the past 12 months.

“A majority of Americans (63%) believe what employers facing difficulty in recruiting have known for some time—there is a skills shortage in the workforce,” says Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., president of SHRM. “What is now clear is that innovative thinking and resolute action are needed, and public policy must change.”

According to the SHRM Skills Gap Survey report, 52% of HR professionals said that the skills gap has worsened or greatly worsened in the past two years. Also, 83% said they have noticed a decrease in the quality of job applicants, with one-third citing a lack of needed technical skills.

The gap is evident in the trades, middle-skilled positions and highly skilled science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) positions, SHRM observes. Carpentry, plumbing, welding and machining are the technical abilities found most lacking in the workforce. Data analysis, science, engineering, medical and finance are other areas in short supply.

The survey found a contrast between the most common remedies used by employers to address the talent shortage—expanding advertising and outsourcing recruiting, among them—and those that HR professionals believe are the most effective.

They say the most effective tools have been:

• Providing onsite training to employees (including seminars and training programs).

• Starting or expanding training programs to help improve skills of new hires.

• Providing offsite training to employees (workshops and development programs).

• Increasing compensation.

Other remedies identified by SHRM include better preparing the youngest workers through collaboration with educational institutions, and recruiting from nontraditional sources such as people with criminal backgrounds and military veterans.

More than one-quarter of the HR survey respondents said their businesses collaborate with schools to build a pipeline of job candidates. But almost one-half believe that the education system has done very little to help address the issue.

For some jobs with labor shortages, employment-based immigration is the right remedy, according to HR professionals. A whopping 85% of HR respondents to the SHRM Employment-Based Immigration Survey said it was very important to recruit workers regardless of their national origin.

While about three-quarters of survey respondents said foreign-born workers contribute positively to U.S. economic growth and help drive innovation, more than one-third said their businesses were challenged by an insufficient number of employment-based visas, such as H-1Bs, to recruit these workers.

Additionally, one-third said the employment-based immigration process was lengthy and complex with unpredictable results. The survey respondents also called for the removal of roadblocks to ensuring a legal workforce.

What is needed now, according to the HR professionals polled, are:

• More employment visas: 33% of those who use work visas in recruiting say more are needed to recruit, hire, transfer and retain talented employees.

• Mandatory E-Verify: 81% support a national, entirely electronic system that accurately confirms identity for employment and combats identity theft.

• Trusted Employer Program: 56% approve its creation for low-risk, immigration-compliant employers.

A study released late last year by Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute found that 2.4 million skilled jobs are projected to go unfilled in manufacturing by 2028. That research also found that companies are embracing a wide variety of innovations to address the issue, many of them similar to the ones cited in the SHRM survey.

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