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The present low unemployment rate and strong candidates’ market are exacerbating a skills shortage. But it’s also difficult for existing and potential workers to acquire the skills to compete in America’s fast-changing workplace technology and business markets.

In Bridging the Skills Gap with Workforce Development Strategies, a new Talent Pulse research by Human Capital Institute (HCI) in conjunction with SkillSurvey, Inc., 62% of over 180 HR practitioners (mostly in North America) surveyed said a skills gap among their existing workforce will negatively affect their ability to meet strategic goals. Similarly, 59% of survey respondents find that external skill shortages are producing the same effect.

And the skills in high demand by employers aren’t limited to technical knowledge for a specific profession or position. So-called ‘soft skills,’ such as the ability to think critically, get along with co-workers and manage projects can be elusive, too. It’s an issue that schools, colleges and universities are recognizing as they help their students transition to the workforce. A number of them are assessing their programs through The Career Readiness project launched by NACE and SkillSurvey.

Soft Skills Are Most in Demand

HCI’s new survey found that, depending on the seniority of the position, between just 18% and 33% of the hard-to-find skills named by respondents are profession- or trade-specific. Of those skills, 10% can be characterized as basic or core competencies for some roles – including writing, mathematics and proficiency in common office software. However, the more significant share of hard-to-find skills – more than half – were characterized as social, cognitive, or emotional abilities.

For leadership positions, respondents cited strategic thinking as a hard-to-find skill, while managerial skills were scarce for mid-level executive job candidates. In addition, HR professionals reported candidates showing collaborative skills were hard to place for contractor or consulting positions and job candidates who are customer-oriented were difficult to find for entry-level jobs. SkillSurvey recently released data from thousands of references showing that communication, is a common area for improvement for entry-level job candidates across a spectrum of jobs in the workplace from finance to nursing.

Better Ways to Find the Skilled

Today, more than half of organizations (55% of those surveyed in the HCI Talent Pulse survey) balance a mix of recruiting for skilled and unskilled candidates as a way to manage the skills gaps they face. But an aggressive strategy is needed for a more permanent, comprehensive fix. The HCI Talent Pulse study notes that “high-performing organizations are more likely to engage in multiple approaches to filling their skills gaps and shortages.” The strategies include:

  • Building a compelling value proposition to attract and retain talent, especially in a competitive market;
  • More accurately identifying skills gaps in order to build training and recruiting programs;
  • Investing in learning and development opportunities for current employees;
  • Collaborating with schools to enhance the skills of existing talent and build new pools of talent for future growth; For example, through The Career Readiness Project, employers can leverage proven HR technology to streamline student’s work and internship evaluations. The program benefits students by helping them gain insights critical to their professional development.

One of the most effective ways to attract skilled workers is to build and offer a great training programs for technical skills, as well as soft-skill development, so that employees can advance. In the HCI survey, 67% of respondents used training programs to address skills gaps, and over half (51%) offered high-potential and leadership development programs.

Workplace Development Programs Pay

Organizations who implement long-term workplace development strategies report a string of positive results. In the HCI study, respondents listed the impact of their efforts over the past three years:

  • 43% have built stronger pipelines for critical roles;
  • 35% increased the diversity of their workforce, and an equal share reduced the rate of turnover;
  • 32% have cut the time it takes to fill a position;
  • 30% reduced the number of open positions;
  • 29% lowered recruiting costs;
  • 28% boosted the quality of their new hires;
  • 20% decreased the time it takes for a new employee to start being productive on the job, and the same proportion reduced their costs incurred in hiring a new employee.

Technology Helps Combat Skills Gaps

By adding online reference checking to the hiring process, employers can gain a more honest, accurate assessment of a new job candidate’s hard and soft skills. With that information, recruiters can better determine the best applicant for the job and identify training or onboarding needs.

To help recruiters assess a candidate’s soft skills, cloud-based SkillSurvey Reference® offers hundreds of job-specific surveys, and flexible solutions for organizations to meet their reference checking requirements for any role they’re filling (they can even opt to use text messaging to help candidates and their references respond easily). References receive a link to SkillSurvey’s portal, where they can rate a candidate’s critical soft skills, as well as make additional comments about a job candidate’s strengths and areas of improvement.

Among other benefits, the Pre-Hire 360® workflow in SkillSurvey Reference has helped organizations reduce first-year turnover for cause by 35.5%, according to studies of over 49,000 new hires.

Read more about how you can shrink the skills gap at your organization in the new HCI Talent Pulse survey, and check out this infographic to see more reasons online reference checking can help you more accurately assess your job candidates’ soft skills and make your hiring process more efficient.

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