Matt Ferguson is CEO of CareerBuilder.
Last month, the U.S. Labor Department unveiled $160 million in new grants to retrain workers for technical skills in high-growth fields. The effort should be welcome news to the millions of Americans who have been unemployed for longer than six months.
My company, CareerBuilder (which operates the U.S.’s largest online job site), has found that the country is experiencing the symptoms of a multi-speed labor market. This means job sectors that require highly-educated workers are recovering fast, while growth in other areas will likely remain stagnant until consumer demand begins to rise.
And the skills required to fill many of the jobs returning first in the recovery — namely in engineering, IT, and healthcare — do not match the skills of Americans most needing work.
We have conducted research to discover the extent of the skills deficit problem. In a September CareerBuilder survey of more than 2,600 employers nationwide, one in four businesses reported having open positions for which they cannot find qualified candidates. For instance, according to our labor supply and demand data, there is only one active job seeker for every three open positions in multiple fields, including nurse practitioners and cloud developers.
This means that although employers have plenty of candidates to choose from, often many of those candidates lack specialized skills for the job. In some ways, the skills shortage is symptomatic of the lack of college students entering in-demand disciplines, but that’s a subject for another post.
If you find that you can’t fill open positions, consider these approaches to recruiting the right talent more efficiently:
Know the hard-to-fill positions. When developing a recruitment strategy, companies can more fluidly project which positions will be the most difficult to fill. In these cases, try implementing continuous recruitment strategies: Network with candidates for positions that may not be currently open, but have a high likelihood of opening in the near future. This requires close observance of labor supply trends. Where are the skilled workers in your sector? How many are there? What are their recent job titles?
Recruit in cities with greatest supply, and if necessary, move to them. Talent in certain industries is not evenly distributed geographically, so employers must access data that allows them to target candidates wherever they are located. For example, our research shows that the demand for Java developers has grown 72 percent since the fall of 2009. But in New York City, on average there is just one job-seeking Java developer for every ten open positions demanding this skill. So if Java developers are not in New York, where are they? According to our supply and demand data, the four easiest cities to recruit these specialists are all in Texas.
It’s notable that in the wake of the mortgage crisis, the American workforce isn’t as mobile. When companies find the right fit at the other end of the country, they’ll either have to offer substantive relocation packages or allow the employee to work remotely.
Tailor compensation levels accordingly. When supply for a specific skill set is scant, wages naturally rise. Organizations can no longer expect to acquire niche talent for bargain prices. On our careers site, we’re seeing wages rise for specialized technology positions. Hiring managers will have to closely monitor what competitors are offering to retain top employees and recruit new ones — for any job, at any level.
Take initiative to retrain. Ultimately, if the right candidates still aren’t applying, businesses should take ownership of the skills-training process and the government should incent it. Many of the 14 million out-of-work Americans possess a base level of skills that could transfer over to a new career path if given the opportunity to build on them. It won’t be easy, but in sometime between six months and two years it’s feasible to train up to a million workers in many of the industries feeling labor supply pressure. This can only happen if more businesses take the lead. For example, right now the CareerBuilder technology headquarters in Atlanta is recruiting ten unemployed job seekers for an intensive, six-month IT training program. This initiative will help prepare these people to step into permanent roles with us or any one of the myriad companies needing specialized talent.
The longer the unemployment rate remains high, the greater the chance we’ll face a long-lasting structural problem. That outcome is dangerous and unnecessary. We know the high growth fields. It’s time to take bold steps to get as many eager, talented Americans into these fields as possible.