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The Talent Gap: If it is real, what can you do?

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By David Leaser

Is the world really facing a talent shortage? Does the talent gap exist? Well, it depends on who you ask: Harvard Business Review and Manpower say it does exist, citing data which show 36% of employers worldwide are having difficulty filling jobs. Paul Krugman says the skills gap is a “zombie idea” and the New York Times has asserted that it is “mostly a corporate fiction.”

Gary Beach, CIO Magazine Publisher Emeritus, has studied the skills gap problem for years and believes the United States is experiencing an extraordinary gap in the skills companies need against the skills today’s workforce possesses. Beach developed an objective measurement called the Skills Misery Index (SGMI) to quantify the problem, detailed in his book titled, The U.S. Technology Skills Gap.

Skills Gap Misery Index

Beach’s Skills Gap Misery Index (SGMI) uses monthly data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, comparing the “job openings” number identified in the monthly Job Opening Labor Turnover (JOLT) report and the number of Americans included in the monthly U-6 Unemployment Rate. JOLT shows the millions of jobs available in the U.S. and the U-6 number shows the number of Americans who are presently unemployed, underemployed and those who have stopped looking for work. Beach recorded his findings from 2003 to 2014 and found a dramatic spike in 2009, peaking in 2010. The SGMI remained well above the 100 baseline throughout 2014.

The Effects of a Talent Shortage

Regardless of the size or severity of a skills gap, employers should do everything they can to attract, engage and progress talent. According to the Manpower survey, talent shortages can have a significant impact in every area of the organization:


Five things you can do to grow your talent base:

1)Appoint Beginners. Find people who really want the job and can grow into it, rather than looking for someone who has the skills now. It make take a few months in retraining, but the result will be an employee who appreciates the opportunity you have given him/her, fostering loyalty and a drive to achieve more.

2)Team with Academia. Work with local colleges to create programs which build the skills you need. Colleges are eager to learn what skills are in demand, especially if you can make a commitment to hire or intern their students at your organization.

3) Pool your Resources. It could take months to find the exact skill set you need in an individual, but the job still needs to get done. Instead of looking for a single person to do the job, create teams where each individual can contribute to the end result. For example, team a person with excellent project management skills with a technical resource and a strategist to create a data science team.

4) Make Work Flexible. With today’s technology, there are plenty of jobs which can be conducted virtually. Look outside your radius to find talent which may want to work from home. With collaboration technology, consider change the work week to allow employees to work odd hours and share their results in online communities.

5) Build a Culture of Skills Development. There are plenty of people looking for new careers, even within your organization. Insist on continual skills development. Reward it. As each person in the organization learns, the intellectual capital of the organization grows. IBM implemented a program called “Think Fridays” to encourage employees to build “thinking” time into the workweek. IBM also expects everyone in the organization to spend 40 hours a year, minimum, learning new things.


David Leaser is the senior manager for IBM’s Global Skills Initiative. Leaser developed IBM’s first cloud-based learning solution and is the author of a number of thought leadership white papers on talent development, including “Migrating Minds” and “The Social Imperative in Workforce Development.” Leaser has trained more than 4,000 clients and developed more than 30 technology training manuals and video tutorials. You can reach David on LinkedIn or Twitter @david_leaser.

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