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It's Your Job to Help Fill the Skills Gap

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Sevice centers and other employers in the manufacturing sector continually lament that they "just can't find good people." They think of themselves as victims of the "skills gap" in the American labor force. Yet it's a gap they helped to create—and one they should help to fill.

As one blogger wisely wrote recently, "Here's a crazy idea: Manufacturers could train their existing employees in the new technologies they're rolling out. If you don't have an in-house program to facilitate your employees' growth, then you don’t really have much room for complaining about the shortage!"

The gap is not simply the result of workers who have fallen behind, but rather technology that has advanced so rapidly. As economists point out, the U.S. is now producing more than ever before, even though only about one-third of the manufacturing jobs lost during the recession have been recovered. How is that possible? Because companies have reached new heights of productivity through much greater use of automation.

The skills gap is not just a problem in the United States. Thirty-six percent of employers in 42 countries say they suffer from a lack of skilled workers today, the highest percentage in seven years, according to Manpower Group's ninth annual Talent Shortage Survey. In the U.S., the number is even higher at 40 percent. The most common reason employers struggle to fill positions, the survey found, is that candidates don't have the technical competencies required for the new jobs.

Over half the employers reporting a talent shortage say it is impacting their ability to meet customers' needs. Being short-staffed reduces competitiveness and hurts productivity. To overcome this talent shortfall, they are adopting new people practices that include additional training and development for staff members.

Blame for the skills gap is often placed on American workers, who are suddenly seen as incompetent, and the nation's education system, which has failed to STEM the tide. But companies that have replaced workers with machines bear some responsibility, too.

Employers in the industrial sector have to start thinking of themselves as trainers, not just distributors, fabricators or manufacturers, though they certainly don’t have to go it alone. Industry trade groups are working to establish educational programs and facilitate partnerships with local community colleges and technical institutes. Vendors of the sophisticated new equipment are stepping up to offer their expertise.

Most people consider the millions of Americans who are underemployed as society's greatest problem. Viewed another way, this vast labor pool is perhaps our greatest resource. Certainly among them are plenty of the "good people" you seek. Run a truly outstanding company and perhaps they will find you.

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