Is there really a skills shortage in Canada?
‘Shortage’ may be largely the fault of employers
Aug 14, 2012
While there are definitely shortages of skilled people in certain fields and geographic regions (skilled trades and the Alberta oil patch spring to mind), I seriously question whether there really is a major skills shortage in Canada.
With far too many people still unemployed or underemployed, it doesn’t seem to me like we’re going to see major labour shortages in the near future. And many people are now delaying retirement because they can’t afford to retire and are not ready to pass the torch just yet. We also continue to bring in fairly large numbers of immigrants, many of whom have a difficult time securing meaningful employment even after being here several years.
Employers too picky
I know some readers will disagree, but to me the problem is employers are being too picky. When people say there’s a skills shortage, they often really mean they can’t find people who have done the exact same job in the exact same industry, have the exact qualifications they’re looking for and are willing to work for the salary they’re willing to pay.
Some employers are so picky practically no one seems good enough for them. I wrote about this a while back in a previous blog post. Employers need to be willing to give more people with slightly non-traditional backgrounds a chance.
It also seems like employers have largely given up training and developing people. For quite a while, the prevailing philosophy at many companies has been to hire only people who can hit the ground running from day one. However, that’s often an unreasonable expectation, even with respect to an “ideal” candidate because cultural norms, values, policies, processes and technologies usually vary across organizations.
Professor Peter Cappelli of the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania would likely agree. Cappelli’s new book Why Good People Can’t Get Jobs argues the skills gap is a myth.
He believes perceptions of a skills gap relate to employers’ difficulties in filling vacancies coupled with concerns educational institutions aren’t adequately preparing people for the workforce. Cappelli argues there’s no evidence to support the opinion that schools are getting worse — at least not in the United States.
He also argues increasing credentialism is proof more people are overqualified and the workforce is becoming more highly educated (in many cases, Cappelli argues, employees would be turned down for their current jobs if they reapplied for them today). He also points out salaries are not really increasing, proving there’s little evidence of an actual labour shortage.
On top of that, many organizations have drastically cut their training budgets and insist on hiring only from their competitors. Cappelli argues this creates an artificially small pool of candidates to work with.
What can employers do?
There’s no question many employers are having difficulties filling jobs. Many people point to the large volumes of unqualified candidates applying for jobs as evidence of this frustration.
However, I believe that’s more a symptom of the poor job market with so many people desperate for work and the fact individuals can apply for jobs online from anywhere and at little to no cost. Employers just need to be more creative in their candidate sourcing strategies — “post and pray” doesn’t cut it anymore.
Employers can overcome the perceived “skills shortage” by being creative and returning to hiring for potential and competencies rather than just previous experience. It’s more challenging, expensive and time-consuming, but employers also need to provide meaningful training and development opportunities — something that will ultimately result in increased employee retention and engagement.
In fairness, however, I do believe in many ways colleges and universities (and even high schools) are failing to adequately prepare graduates for the workforce. For example — and I may be somewhat biased given what I do for a living — it seems like many recent graduates lack adequate communication skills. In some cases, therefore, employers may need to start providing remedial courses in basic skills such as business writing, numeracy and business etiquette.
Some people argue the skills gap is largely a myth perpetuated by employers and their supporters to drive wages down and open up the job market to temporary foreign workers and others who are willing to work for less. While I don’t believe most employers are that devious, I agree with Cappelli that at least some of the problem can be attributed to employers themselves.
Brian Kreissl is the managing editor of Consult Carswell. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information, visit www.consultcarswell.com.
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