Companies Love to Complain About the Skills Gap. But They Aren’t Doing Much About It.

By Erica Maddox
Jul 12 2017 |
Photo by Alachua County on Flickr

A new study finds that only 1 in 3 organizations have a process to address the gap.

Companies often complain about the “skills gap,” but most of them aren’t doing enough to fix it.

That’s one of the conclusions of a recently completed study published by tech association CompTIA, which assessed the skills gap and looked at the sorts of things needed to address it.

Researchers mainly focused on the tech industry and IT companies, but the problems the organization addresses relate to manufacturing as well.

CompTIA surveyed 600 professionals in the United States and asked their thoughts and opinions on what effects the skills of workers. There were three key points:

  • There is a skills gap in most industries—including manufacturing;
  • Most organizations do not have a way to address the problem;
  • It requires a diverse set of solutions to be fixed

Organizations reported several consequences stemming from the skills gap, such as lower staff productivity and sales, and deficiencies with innovation and new product development.

Yet only 1 in 3 organizations indicated they have a process to address the gap. 

Mind the Gap

The first step in addressing the skills gap is figuring out what it is.

CompTIA describes the skills gap as “a catch-all term to describe a range of workforce concerns.” In the study, CompTIA defines it as the difference between how workers perform and what employers desire from their workforce. But the organization also notes that things can get murky — “what may be thought of as a skills gap by an employer may in fact be a difference in millennial work styles,” for example.

There are five top skills gap impressions within businesses, CompTIA reports:

  • Too many workers lack advanced skills;
  • Certain segments of workers are falling behind;
  • Skills gap can be related to the generational differences;
  • K-12 schools are not effectively preparing students for jobs today;
  • Colleges are not effectively preparing students for jobs today

Given the “multifaceted nature of skills gaps,” there needs to be “an equally diverse set of solutions” to address it, CompTIA says. The study recommends that businesses employ tactics such as on-the-job experiences like internships, early exposure, better evaluation on skills, certifications, and intense job training like apprenticeships. 

Axios, which covered the study, notes that companies are struggling to assess skills that are required for work. Employers are not doing anything about finding the skilled workers they need, and they do not see holistically how it affects their company.

“Bottom line: ‘The outlook for progress is bleak,’ the study says, when those in need of skilled workers not only are doing nothing about it, but don’t fully understand what ails them,” Axios writes.

Here at the Alliance for American Manufacturing, we’ve been skeptical of much of the discussion surrounding the skills gap. Workers are often blamed for not being qualified for many of the factory jobs that are out there, when really, there are other factors at play — like a lack of opportunities for workers to get properly trained for those jobs.

There also needs to be a connection made between workers and the jobs that are out there, and currently there is not enough help from the private sector in doing this. Companies need to be willing to invest to get what they expect out of their workers to close the gap, including by offer more internships, training, educational programs, apprenticeships, and more.

One thing is clear: The private sector is going to have to step up, at least if President Trump’s federal budget recommendation is any indication.

Although he proposed a $1 million increase to federal apprenticeship programs, Trump also wants to cut federal funding for multiple programs that are designed to support American manufacturing, including the Manufacturing Extension Partnership and other job training programs. In 2016, the MEP helped to retain or create 142,381 jobs, and saw an increase of $15.4 billion in GDP; this shows how important programs like these are to the manufacturing industry. 

Closing the Gap

Not all companies are sitting on their hands.

The U.S Business Roundtable, which calls the skills gap a “national crisis affecting our national future,” put together its own report highlighting the work companies are doing to build educational and training programs to help fix the gap. 

Multiple companies indicated that they are working to fix the skills gap within their company. In the report, Business Roundtable noted that there are three types of skills gaps in today’s workforce:

  • Lack of individuals with basic skills for employment, such as teamwork and problem solving;
  • Lack of workers who have the specialized skills;
  • Lack of applicants with STEM skills

Business Roundtable said that the private sector spends more than $164 billion annually on training and education, but are still not able to generate enough skilled laborers. The association’s report shows how the corporate sector is trying to collaborate with education providers, provide apprenticeship, and provide education and tuition assistance. 

One company featured in the Business Roundtable report is AK Steel, a top producer of stainless and electrical steel products that employs over 8,500 men and women in eight steel plants. The company has a high demand for skilled steel workers, and has begun working with local technical schools to provide programs for skills training.

AK Steel also wants to connect the younger generation with career opportunities in manufacturing, and have created a Career Task Force committee that plans to generate awareness and interest in manufacturing jobs.

AK Steel claims that reintroducing manufacturing as a career option will be a benefit for the industry, and by training potential workers properly, it will also help fix the skills gap.

The company’s efforts mirror that of another steel company, ArcelorMittal. The company’s Steelworker for the Future program is designed to attract the next generation of steelworkers by offering students on-the-job training while they are still working to earn their associates degree. After completing their education, participants are then given the opportunity to work full-time with the company, potentially earning up to $90,000 annually within three years.

It’s the type of program we hope to see from more companies, both in manufacturing and other sectors. If the private sector is concerned about the skills gap, it needs to step up and fix it.

More on the Steelworker for the Future program: