Learning & Development

Training Can Help Close Economy-Related Skills Gaps

In a Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) poll, 66 percent of respondents reported having a hard time recruiting for specific job openings, up from 52 percent in 2011. “The Ongoing Impact of the Recession—Recruiting and Skills Gaps” found that recruiting challenges vary by industry, but highly skilled positions—scientists, engineers, technicians, programmers, nurses, doctors, and medical specialists—are generally the most difficult to fill.

Attracting highly skilled candidates in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics presents a significant talent-management challenge for employers today.


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“This is magnified by the ongoing recession during which companies shifted to technologies for efficiency and now require skilled professionals to support those technologies,” said Alexander Alonso, vice president for research at SHRM.

Also, 30 percent of surveyed HR professionals said their organization made major changes in the use of technology that impacted employees within the past year, and another 10 percent plan to do so within the coming year. And 72 percent of those survey participants said employees need new skills because of the technological changes.

Overall, 48 percent of HR professionals reported that job applicants do not have the skills needed for the job, while 40 percent said applicants lack the right work experience, and 53 percent said critical thinking/problem solving is the top skill gap. Other identified skills gaps include professionalism/work ethic (46 percent), written communication (41 percent), and leadership (38 percent).

The poll also revealed these common gaps in employees’ basic knowledge:

  • Writing in English (55 percent),
  • Math proficiency (38 percent), and
  • Reading comprehension (31 percent).

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Since skills gaps will vary by industry and organization, trainers should work with management to identify their organization’s specific training needs and determine whether their existing offerings address those needs, encourage mentoring, and look for opportunities for on-the-job training. Trainers also might want to partner with organizations, such as Literacy Volunteers or local colleges and universities, to provide education in reading, writing, and math.

In addition, hiring managers should be educated about the organization’s shifting skills needs and circumstances. As SHRM points out: “HR professionals may need to convince hiring managers that filling some jobs will be more difficult than expected. They might need to create more effective compensation packages for hard-to-fill jobs.”