Recruitment practices may be causing skills gap

LOVELAND — Filling manufacturing positions based on skills — and not pedigree, degree or even experience — can be the key to the gaps that employers say exist in the jobs marketplace. And despite best intentions, many employers are missing the boat.

“Employers ask, ‘what can I do in my own company to solve this problem,’” said Trevor Pruitt of the skills gap that companies in virtually every employment sector say exists in the state and nation. Pruitt is an associate with Skillful Colorado, a company that helps match employers with qualified workers. He spoke at the fifth annual Northern Colorado Manufacturing Trade Show on Thursday.

And the answer isn’t something that employers want to hear. “What the data shows is that you’re making it worse,” he said.

Citing typical job ads that he found on the internet, Pruitt outlined three major areas that are unnecessarily restricting who is eligible to apply or be hired for positions throughout the state.

Degree inflation — Employers often require a degree before an individual is considered for a position, even when a degree isn’t necessary. Using production supervisors as an example, Pruitt said that only 16 percent of existing production supervisors have degrees, yet 57 percent of job ads require them. Given that almost 70 percent of Americans do not have college degrees, requiring a degree immediately constricts the pool of potential applicants. It’s the skills that employers think come with a degree that are important, but there’s no guarantee that a degree equals certain skills, he said.

Bias — Pruitt said most employers don’t intentionally restrict who can or will apply for jobs based upon gender or other forms of bias, yet the words chosen for ads can result in that. He said studies show that the word “leads” in a job ad, as in leadership, tends to tilt toward male applicants. “Supports” tends to tilt toward female. And while the employer might not care about the gender of the applicant, potential applicants may subconsciously decide not to apply based upon terminology. That again limits the potential employment pool.

Experience — “Ten times the number of people have the skills of a machinist but don’t work as a machinist,” he said. If not careful, an employer can eliminate virtually everyone from the applicant pool, he said.

The solution is to remove credential requirements from job postings whenever possible and focus on the skills that are needed. “Most jobs you can do by gaining skills in ways other than a degree,” he said. “Skills are more important than a degree or experience,” he said.

While restructuring the hiring process is one tactic for solving the employment crisis many companies face, another tactic is to develop apprenticeship programs.

Andrew Palmer, advanced manufacturing program manager for CareerWise, told attendees of the manufacturing trade show that skills-based hiring coupled with apprenticeships is a formula for workforce success.

CareerWise is a nonprofit organization that is helping employers develop youth apprenticeship programs around the state.

He defined apprenticeships, as opposed to internships, as an employer-driven program from which there needs to be a return on investment for the employer. Apprentices are paid a wage from the business and have an expectation that they will learn a skill and have continued employment after their apprenticeship. The tenure of an apprenticeship may be years, not weeks or months that is typical of internships.

Apprenticeships require an educational component as well as a work-based skills development aspect. Employers often pay the cost of outside classes such as those offered at a community college.

The programs solve four problems, he said.

  1. Aging workforce — The workforce is aging, with the average age in manufacturing 45 or older, depending on the type. The average age of apprentices is 26 years old, he said.
  2. Poaching — Employers often compete with each other for workers based on wages. But apprenticeships add a quality factor. Workers see value in more than the paycheck because they are learning skills.
  3. Out-of-state hiring — Hiring workers from elsewhere can be expensive because of relocation packages that are required. Hiring a local student and training that person can be more cost-effective.
  4. Turnover — When companies invest in the future of workers, that investment often is reciprocated by loyalty, Palmer said.

Additional information about issues companies are having with workforce issues can be found in a BizWest special report.

LOVELAND — Filling manufacturing positions based on skills — and not pedigree, degree or even experience — can be the key to the gaps that employers say exist in the jobs marketplace. And despite best intentions, many employers are missing the boat.

“Employers ask, ‘what can I do in my own company to solve this problem,’” said Trevor Pruitt of the skills gap that companies in virtually every employment sector say exists in the state and nation. Pruitt is an associate with Skillful Colorado, a company that helps match employers with qualified workers. He spoke at the fifth annual Northern Colorado Manufacturing Trade Show on Thursday.

And the answer isn’t something that employers want to hear. “What the data shows is that you’re making it worse,” he said.

Citing typical job ads that he found on the internet, Pruitt outlined three major areas that are unnecessarily restricting who is eligible to apply or be hired for positions throughout the state.

Degree inflation — Employers often require a degree before an individual is considered for a position, even when a degree isn’t necessary. Using production supervisors as an example, Pruitt said that only 16 percent of existing production supervisors have degrees, yet 57 percent of job ads require them. Given that almost 70 percent of Americans do not have college degrees, requiring a degree immediately constricts the pool of potential applicants. It’s the skills that employers think come with a degree that are important, but there’s no guarantee that a degree equals certain…