How Does The Skills Gap Affect Recent Graduates In Their Job Search?

Following the Great Recession in the late 2000s, the idea of a skills gap in the job market began to grow as companies found it difficult to hire for jobs. This “skills gap”–an idea that there is a mismatch between skills that employers are hiring for and skills that prospective employees have–has only widened since the days of the Great Recession and even more so since the start of Covid-19. As many have found since the beginning of the pandemic, there are lots of jobs that are available, but it seems like no one is hiring.

While this is concerning for everyone, it is especially worrisome for recent high school and college graduates who are beginning to enter adulthood and the workforce.

The problem that businesses and the labor force is encountering is that companies aren’t investing into candidates who they can build into middle and higher skilled laborers, and potential employees are unable to build the skills that they need in order to get better positions because of it. In a Harvard Business School study partnered with Accenture and Burning Glass,
only 22% of companies that responded to Accenture’s survey said they would always consider bringing someone on who requires additional training when they are struggling to fill a position.

To be frank, the onus is not purely on the potential candidate. Companies are requiring higher skills than a position demands in the hopes that they can attract better talent for the company. But that isn’t what happens–either a position doesn’t fill, has high turnover, or businesses hire an overqualified individual for the position that results in what the Harvard Business School study calls “deskilling.” Companies are helping create their own labor shortage, and while the U.S. government has looked into policy to address it, policy isn’t able to do as much if businesses and the education system don’t also partner with them.

Previously,
the United States was the only developed country that hadn’t taken industry-wide efforts to close the skills gap. But as the pandemic continues to take its toll on industries, that has started to change. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation has created the Talent Pipeline Management to address the skills gap in three ways: 1) create initiatives for employees to continue improving their skills; 2) develop educational programs that help develop and funnel employees; and 3) improve policies between educational programs or institutions and skills that jobs are looking for. This multi-institutional and industry-wide effort is also recommended in Harvard Business School’s study “Bridge The Gap: Rebuilding America’s Middle Skills.”

As these initiatives take off across the United States, what are ways that young adults can develop skills to help them find a job after graduation?

Developing soft skills is just as important as developing technical knowledge for potential careers. In fact, employers tend to highly value soft skills–
especially customer service and communication skills. These can be developed in many ways: clubs and sports in schools, volunteer programs, internships, and outside skills development training such as the Real World of Work program.

Both soft and hard skills are also developed in trade programs and technical certifications. Some companies will even pay for additional education and degrees to specialize in their fields and cultivate career growth and opportunities. By focusing on skills development in fields of interest, young adults can grow the skills they need to succeed as they come into the workforce.

So, should young adults be worried about finding a job after graduation? As the world begins to emerge in a post-pandemic world, companies are finding that they need to shift their previous expectations and work in a community to develop a skilled team of young adults who will grow into higher level jobs. As businesses partner with schools and policy-makers to shrink the skills gap, more companies will see the benefits of developing new hires in entry level positions for more complex roles. It might be a slow process–and there will be growing pains–but young adults should find that while it may seem bleak now, change is already happening and their prospects are continuing to grow.