Hiring Aptitude Over Experience to Combat the Skills Gap

By Dan Judge

The growing skills gap is one that is tough to ignore. According to a 2018 report by Manpower Group, 45 percent of employers worldwide say they cannot find employees with the skills they need and, for larger corporations, that number is even higher.

In our recent NetPlus Alliance Industry Outlook report, many of our distributor members confirmed this, saying that finding qualified employees was becoming more difficult every year. Some even remarked that it is a constant source of stress that keeps them awake at night.

So, when asked what areas they would like additional help with we weren’t surprised with the responses. Many distributor members mentioned human resources initiatives such as these:

  1. Onboarding and training new hires
  2. Finding qualified employees
  3. Minimizing employee turnover

Years ago, distributors were able to cast a wide net and accept only those applicants who checked all of the boxes, but this is no longer the case. In many instances, distributors are finding a shortage of applicants for a position, or those that do apply lack the advanced skills the job requires.

The precise cause of the labor shortage is complicated and there are many factors at play. For decades, parents and school guidance counselors were steering young people away from careers in the trades and manufacturing industries for professions deemed more stable. High school graduates were encouraged to consider college over entering the workforce. The result? Recent graduates were applying to university in record numbers, while high-paying skilled jobs sat unfilled.

Companies are also finding it harder to fill core roles due to rapidly changing technology. Many otherwise qualified applicants are turned away when they lack experience in particular software or systems.

Yet another critical piece of the puzzle stems from baby boomer retirement. Not only are they leaving empty seats to fill, but their years of experience and industry knowledge is not actively recorded or passed down to their replacements.

It’s time to re-evaluate current recruitment strategies. Yesterday’s outdated hiring practices are doing little to secure talent and are leaving companies both overwhelmed and understaffed.

Employers have been so laser-focused on hiring based on hard skills that they are turning away those skills that are often inherent and harder to train for. According to a Leadership IQ study, almost half of new hires fail within 18 months, and 81 percent of them fail due to a lack of soft skills.

The solution? Solve the talent shortage by tapping into human strengths and the soft skills that are most indicative of an employee’s post-hire performance including:

  • Communication skills
  • Problem solving
  • Ability to collaborate
  • Relationship building skills
  • Creativity
  • Empathy
  • Desire to learn

Distributors should consider hiring for aptitude and value trainability over experience. Focusing on a mix of soft and hard skills can help hiring managers identify employees that have specific capabilities you need but are also willing and able to learn new skills that can benefit the company over time.

One way to do that is to offer a training pathway for existing employees that enables them to rise from lower entry jobs to higher paid positions. Apprenticeships, certification courses and on-site training programs are just a few of the ways companies around the globe are working to minimize employee churn and combat the talent shortage. While there is a cost in training programs, the cost in recruiting fresh talent is high, as well. According to Harvard Business Review, hiring a new employee costs an average of $4,129 and can increase dramatically for a managerial role.

The trouble is that many organizations haven’t devoted adequate time or resources to developing their workforce and are operating reactively, rather than creating proactive strategies. By the time they begin to invest in employee training, it’s often too late. How do you plan to drive workforce development in your business? What steps are you taking to bridge the skills gap?