John Sumser’s series on the so-called skills shortage should be required reading for every person in HR, for every business leader and every politician. Period. Readers may not agree on every point, but he raises the questions that need to be asked, and he provides a fact-based context for the discussion. Perfect!
There are skills shortages locally, regionally, nationally and in some key technical occupational areas. It's equally true that some of the so-called skills shortages and the resulting hand wringing about “we can’t find the skills we need in the locations we need them,” are in many cases self-inflicted!
What happens if you don't require a college degree?
There certainly are pockets of real skills shortages. But unless you’re looking for highly technical skills and people who can be certified to work in some highly regulated industries, you just might be covered over in talent that you just can’t see.
There are many job descriptions written that needlessly require a four-year college degree. [There. I said it. Me, the defender of liberal arts degrees. Me, the requirer of great writing skills. Me, the valuer of highly developed communication skills. Shocking, I know.] But here’s the thing: sometimes the lack of a college degree is more indicative of a family’s financial situation than of an individual’s basic skill level or native intelligence. Sometimes the lack of a college degree means nothing when evaluating an individual’s work experience. Sometimes an Associate Degree or a certificate is more than enough for an entry level or para-professional job.
Four-year college degrees have long been a proxy for base level of skills—that a person can write, work with numbers, and think through difficult questions. Except that’s probably not true any more. Not only are there many ways to get those skills these days, there are many ways to get them that don’t include an over-priced experience that saddles the student with tens of thousands of dollars of debt. Additionally, most employers will argue that a four-year degree isn’t a proxy for anything any more: they provide no guarantee that the holder will actually be able to write, speak, think or do the most basic math.
If your job description requires a 4 year degree, your ATS will eliminate the resumes of people with Associate Degrees, people with native intelligence who will pick up the job skills in no time, people with substantial skills gained through on-the-job training; people who are highly motivated to engage with the mission and goals of your organization, an many veterans and the skills they gained through military service.
Think you have a skills shortage? Take another look. It just might be that you have a mind-set that limits great talent from getting in the door. It just might be that you’ve created the skills shortage yourself. Take a look at your job requirements. Talent surrounds you.
Originally published in HR Examiner.
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