MIND THE (SKILLS) GAP: How Tech Can Help People and Businesses Get to Work Today

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If I had to classify the business environment today, I’d say it is characterized by people and companies making things happen. Ninety percent of the successful startups still bootstrap; 2.2 million people have contributed more than $320 million via Kickstarter; and, Twitter, which today boasts 284 million active users, started with a staff of 8.

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And now I am here to encourage businesses across America to do the same when it comes to identifying the hiring the best talent: make it happen by creating the employee you want. In other words, stop waiting for the perfect candidate to show up at your doorstep and instead go shape them. We can point to the so-called “skills gap” as our scapegoat. We can wait for the government to provide a long-term fix or even for our educational system to reform in order to produce talent qualified to thrive in today’s fast-moving market, or we can go shape the talent we want and need, today. The truth is your company is too unique and the marketplace is evolving too quickly for us to think that we can possibly pluck a ready-made candidate from a pool of job seekers and expect them to hit the ground running. Meanwhile, your company is going without the right workforce to help it grow the way that it could and should.

It’s true that shaping the talent you want doesn’t come at the flip of a switch. I assert that it takes a shift in mindset above all. But it can be done. In fact, we’ve seen it accomplished successfully time and time again here at Mindflash and at the offices of many of our more than 1,000 customers. So I’ve outlined the three steps growing companies are employing to make their dream workforce a reality today:

1. Think Differently About the “Right” Talent.

At Mindflash, one-third of our engineers don’t have computer science degrees. Our latest hire, joining our small but mighty salesforce, holds a degree in fashion. Why you ask? Because we’ve realized that we can hire for cultural fit and for the soft skills we have seen be the difference between great hires and hiring mistakes; these are skills such as grit, interpersonal communication and self-discipline — qualities that require significant time and energy to instill, if they can be taught at all. The hard skills – learning how to speak fluently about our software solutions, for instance – can be taught effectively once the employee is on board. This substantially widens the pool of potential candidates for us and allows us to fill open positions quickly.

2. Train the Almost-Perfect Candidate.

Once you’ve revised the way you think about essential talent qualifications, it’s time to shift how we vet and onboard talent. The perfect candidate does not exist. I repeat: the perfect candidate does not exist. Searching endlessly until we find him or her leaves companies sitting with unfilled positions for extended periods, while each day losing productivity and market share.

In a September 2014 survey from Harris Interactive, American workers cited the lack of corporate training as top driver of the U.S. skills gap today. Both employed and unemployed Americans believe that its employers’ lack of willingness to train new employees that is the leading reason why companies are sitting with openings for long periods while many Americans sit unemployed. In response, many companies have invested in learning management systems (LMS). This reaction has caused a 21 percent increase in the LMS market to bridge the so-called “skills gap

Earlier this year, we had at least two unemployed workers for every open, unfilled job: 10 million active job-seekers vs. 4.8 million open roles, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Is it possible that not one of those job seekers can make a great addition to your team with a little training?

3. Finally, Invest In The Best Talent Long Term

As Director of Wharton’s Center for Human Resources Peter Cappelli has cited, American workers received an average of 2.5 weeks, or 100 hours, of training annually in 1979. By 1995, several employer surveys indicated that average had dropped to 10 hours per year, according to Businessweek. And the decline appears to be accelerating. Current data suggests that the majority of employed Americans receive no training at all. In fact, the Harris/Mindflash survey reveals that 40 percent of employees received no skills training in the past two years.

A short term view may reveal a hint of logic in this shift. When employees spend an average of just four years with each company (according to September 2014 data from BLS), organizations argue that it’s not economical for employers to invest in the development of staff that can soon be working for the competition.

Yet, we know employees place a premium on their own development. So what if we began to treat training as a retention tool? In the Harris/Mindflash survey, more than 25 percent of both employed and unemployed Americans indicated they would be willing to invest up to $1,000 of their own money every year for relevant skills training.  If a company was willing to invest that much in them, perhaps they’d stick around for the long term. Luckily today, technology platforms such as Mindflash are making scalable training solutions more accessible and affordable for companies of all sizes.

The nation’s employment picture is sending us clear signals that the current way of business isn’t working – not for us as companies, not for local economies and not for individual job seekers. I’m suggesting a wholesale shift in how we approach talent recruiting, hiring and onboarding, powered by proven technology solutions that make this approach both cost-effective and time-effective. So let’s take a collective pause, reconsider the resumes sitting on our desks as we speak, and make things happen for ourselves to get our companies working and thriving.

Looking for software? Check out Capterra's list of the best software solutions.

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Donna Wells

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Donna Wells is the CEO of Mindflash.com, a leading online training platform. She was previously CMO of Mint.com, the online personal finance service, where she was responsible for driving the company's growth to 2 million users from its launch in 2007 to its acquisition by Intuit in 2009 for $170 million. Donna has also led large marketing organizations for industry leaders including Intuit, Charles Schwab, and Expedia, where she was SVP of Marketing for the U.S. She started her career at American Express, where she launched the Gold Rewards and Platinum Corporate Card products for small businesses. Donna's work has won multiple Webbys, an OMMA award, and has been cited in Newsweek, Brandweek, and Web Marketing for Dummies. She was named one of the Top 25 Women in Tech to Watch by Accenture in 2009. For more insight from Donna, the Mindflash team, and the online training community, read more at The Daily Mindflash blog.

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