Arment Dietrich

Have Skills Gaps Become the New Normal?

By: Arment Dietrich | March 13, 2013 | 

Allen MirelesToday’s guest post is by Allen Mireles.

Google the phrase “skills  gaps” and you come up with enough reading material to keep you busy for hours.

And it’s not all happy news.

Industries ranging from manufacturing and construction to IT and technology are expressing grave concerns about their abilities to find talent with the required skills to fill available jobs.

According to a report published by Manpower, emerging trends put unprecedented value on talent as the driver of business success.

Yet skills gaps exist in most industries today. Skills shortages are forecast around the globe, and, in a special report published by The Economist, executives surveyed have expressed unease about the affect these shortages will have on world economies.

More than half of survey respondents describe a lack of creativity, adaptability, and developed interpersonal communication skills among prospective employees. The absence of these “soft skills” is as problematic as missing technical or industry expertise.

What Are Skills Gaps?

The phrase “skills gaps”  is used to describe a mismatch between the high-level skills required and the skill levels of the available workforce. Skills gaps are one factor used to explain the current level of unemployment in the United States, while industries such as manufacturing struggle desperately to fill available jobs.

In a report published in 2011, Deloitte researchers William D. Eggers and John Hagel concluded the United States is badly lagging behind other leading industrialized nations in developing workers with the skills necessary to fit the changing workplace.

Among their findings:

  • The skills college students attain are out of date five years after graduation.
  • About two-thirds of manufacturers say there is a shortage of available and qualified workers; 56 percent say the shortage is going to get worse in the next three to five years, and about 600,000, or five percent, of jobs remain unfilled “due to a lack of qualified candidates.”
  • The problem is exacerbated by an aging workforce, with about 40 million workers 55 and older to be in the employment pool by 2013.

Similar issues are reported in information technology and information security. The “2013 (ISC)² Global Information Security Workforce Study” found that the shortage of skilled information security professionals is having a profound effect on the global economy, leading to more frequent and costly data breaches.

In information security, finding qualified employees means finding those people who have both technical skills and the ability to solve problems and process ideas creatively.

Innovation is Key to Beating Competition

According to new research from Ernst & Young on global jobs creation, more than half of the 600 plus major entrepreneurs surveyed say they expect to increase their work forces in 2013. The study cites the importance of the role of innovation in creating new jobs and advantages over their competition.

Yet these highly successful entrepreneurs describe themselves as being in desperate need of attracting workers with the right skills and talents to fill their positions. Survey respondents stressed the importance of technical expertise but focused on the capacity of the candidate to transform ideas into action and show creative problem solving skills.

Critical Job Skills Needed Today

At the end of 2012, Meghan Casserly of Forbes, wrote a post highlighting critical job skills needed in 2013. These “soft skills” are considered essential and sought after in today’s jobs market:

  • Critical thinking
  • Complex problem solving
  • Judgement and decision making
  • Active listening
  • Monitoring
  • Sales and marketing

Take a moment and run through the list. How do you grade yourself for each skill? Where do you see room for improvement or growth?

As hard as it is to swallow (on those busy days when you can’t imagine how you’ll finish all of the tasks on your list) you may need to work on some of these areas to avoid your own brush with skills gaps.

Adapt or Run the Risk of Becoming Irrelevant

We all know, or work with, someone who isn’t on board with all the change in our industry. For whom the days of lugging the big green Bacon’s media books (those suckers were big and heavy) down from the top shelf at the library are still a fond memory. Who pride themselves on not “getting it” (whatever “it” is).

They can’t help it. They’re stuck, like bugs in amber, in the past. And they run the risk of becoming irrelevant as the world moves past them in a blur of frenetic digital activity.

We all need to adapt to the changes in our industry, in our companies, in our world at large. And that may mean dusting off our complex problems solving skills and working to improve them. Or hauling out the creative thinking cap and really using it – instead of falling back on some formulaic solution that has worked for other clients.

If we don’t adapt, if we don’t add the soft skills to our work experiences and resumes, we could become irrelevant, left behind, and end up another piece of data in a survey about the skills gaps in PR and Marketing being the new normal.

And who wants to be that kind of normal?

Allen Mireles is vice president at Arment Dietrich and is based outside of Toledo. She has diverse expertise in healthcare IT, manufacturing, and education. You can follow her on Twitter at allenmirelesadd her to your circles on G+, link to her on LinkedIn, or friend her on Facebook.

  • As usual, love your writing and the way you dissect an issue. A few days ago, I met someone who works for one of our competitors. During a very casual conversation, I learned A TON about what they’re not doing that gives us a competitive edge. Things I would have thought an organization like the one where she works would be way on top of and spending lots of time and money to invest in their people so they could stay ahead of the trends. What I’m finding, instead, is most organizations are doing things status quo and, if you want to learn new skills, you have to do it on your own. I both love this and hate it. Love it because it gives us a huge competitive advantage, but hate it because we’ll continue to fight the “why we’re so different” fight.

    • @ginidietrich Thank you. That comment means the world to me. *grinning from ear to ear* I found this topic riveting and one that impacts every industry. Also found a lot of information debating whether or not these “skills gaps” even exist. Fascinating stuff. IMHO, adding to your skills is the only answer unless you are ready to don a housecoat and slippers and shuffle off into the sunset.

      • @allenmireles Although, that doesn’t sound so bad…

    • belllindsay

      @ginidietrich @allenmireles I agree with Gini (sadly, I have nothing staggeringly intelligent to add – rough day) but I *loved* this post – so well written – top to bottom!

  • Julia Gray

    These are great tips, BUT if you’re like me, over a “certain age”, I’m deemed ‘un-hireable’ because of that. It’s horrible, illegal and happens all the time.

  • I agree, you need to adapt to change whether you like it or not. I’m lucky to work with a group of women who are helping me develop my “soft skills” and keep up with the changes in the industry.
    P.S. If you look in those big green Bacon’s books (I’d say 2008 – 2010 maybe?), you might see my name b/c I edited them! Lol!! And they are still made to my knowledge but the covers are prettier.

    • @yvettepistorio I didn’t know that!

      • @ginidietrich Yup!! Totally did. It was torture b/c the print is so small!

  • I found myself in a debate on this issue while I was at SxSW. A few of us were sitting at a cafe discussing adoption rates for social and inbound marketing techniques, and there’s a sentiment in this industry that we need to save businesses from themselves and that we’re still in the convincing game with social. I’m not sure that I agree. My point of view is that clinging to the old way of doing things isn’t quaint or charming, it’s downright destructive to the longevity of their business.
    When someone – especially a business leader – tells me that they proudly don’t use technology, I can’t help but think that I’m looking at a dinosaur.

  • allenmireles

    MichaelBowers ginidietrich Thanks for the retweet, Michael.

  • PattiRoseKnight1

    I couldn’t agree more Allen; it is critical to stay on top of the  new trends especially in social media where there are changes taking place daily.  Some days it seems like there aren’t enough hours to do our work let alone time to keep up to date with what is the new app, toy or whatever.  If we don’t stay on top someone will be along to take our place (unfortunately).

  • The point you make about innovation is so huge.
    I’m a graduate of a small liberal arts college….while I didn’t gain a huge technical background, it did teach me critical thinking, problem solving, and how to be creative in my approach to work and life. Now I learn something new every day from things and people I interact with both online and offline. I’m not too bad at math and science now either =)
    I taught middle school for a couple of years, and I was surprised and bummed out by the attitudes there. Knowledge and creativity are not a script you simply learn and forget about, they are living, breathing, flexible frameworks that give you the opportunity to become better. I had a student once who thoughtfully let me in on the secret that “math is stupid.” I asked him what he liked to do or wanted to do as he got older, to which he replied “making beats.” Basically, he wanted to be a music producer. Over the course of a semester I kept giving him small assignments to learn about what is involved, and challenged him to find out how math really affected the life of a producer. I have no idea if he’s still making music, but he learned something there that I’m sure he’ll apply to whatever he ends up doing.
    The reason I’m pointing that out (apologies for the dull story) is that we separate skills and potential in an unreasonable way. When people tell me they don’t know how to negotiate for a raise, look for a new job, deal with a tricky client, run data to find out why people like some pieces of content and not others, etc…., I tell them “It’s like anything else. Think about what you know, be curious about the world, learn from people and learn from your experiences.” Too often we sell ourselves short and don’t even bother to be creative in our thinking. I think that’s what’s causing the lack of skills, both in communications disciplines as well as comp sci, mathematics, and other fields. Annnnnnnnd, rant done.

    • @JoeCardillo Oh Joe, I enjoyed your rant and ranted along with you in my head as I read your comments. I kind of love your point about our separating skills and potential in unreasonable ways. *off to ponder on that one*. Thanks for the ideas you’ve planted here.

  • SpinSucks

    RTRViews Thanks for sharing Rick 🙂

  • allenmireles

    RTRViews SpinSucks Thanks Rick. xoxo

    • RTRViews

      allenmireles You’re welcome. But when I read that I still wonder why unemployed people my age aren’t even considered for many jobs.

    • RTRViews

      allenmireles And, no. I’m not looking for one but I have very talented and qualified friends my age who do need jobs.

  • allenmireles

    DannyBrown SpinSucks Thanks for the retweet, Sir.

  • SpinSucks

    DannyBrown allenmireles Thanks for sharing Danny. Your nickname is coming soon…haven’t thought of a good enough one yet!

    • DannyBrown

      SpinSucks allenmireles Pish posh 🙂

    • allenmireles

      SpinSucks DannyBrown Oh…he has a nick name. Several that come to mind, actually. 😉

  • allenmireles

    sdhein DannyBrown SpinSucks Thanks for resharing the post, Scott. Much appreciated.

  • allenmireles

    JonMikelBailey SpinSucks Wow. Thanks for the retweet. 🙂

  • CircleDotMktg

    Steveology ginidietrich Fascinating, well written article. Points to execs also being creatively charged in looking for talent.

  • LazBlazter

    tedcoine ginidietrich Certainly very much on our Corporate agenda, name the function and guarantee they are talking the walk

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  • Marc_Meyer

    tonia_ries Interesting assertion… ginidietrich

  • Gini Dietrich

    Julia, that’s really terrible.

  • allenmireles

    blogbrevity tonia_ries Thanks so much for the retweet

  • vzagob


  • “Like bugs in amber” is a great metaphor. The whole skills issue is amusing to me now. When I was in college, lo these many years ago, the emphasis was put on learning about technology. The idea was that you’d never be out of work, and the promise of liberal arts was supposedly fading.
    Now we can’t get along without writers, content creators, communicators, thinkers, project managers, marketers, salesmen — any of the people who get creative with conveying messages.
    How the world turns…

  • akos4trust

    AceConcierge SpinSucks hi babe, are u on whatsapp? Or facebook?