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The Bulletin

Skills gap begins to bite into revenues and growth, survey confirms

Posting in Education

Executives at many large U.S. companies say they are suffering from a skills gap, and will be hurting for employees with science, technology, engineering and math skills in the next one to two years. Some are even getting so desperate they're actually putting out the money for employee training.

That's the takeaway from a new survey of 400 executives, conducted by Accenture, which finds that 46% are feeling the impact of the STEM skills shortage. There's a real cost to the bottom line as well -- among companies currently  facing or anticipating a skills shortage, 66% anticipate a  loss of business to competitors, 64% face a loss of revenue, 59% face eroding customer satisfaction, and 53% say  they will face a delay in developing new products or services.

For those executives who have or are anticipating a skills shortage, the biggest demand is for IT skills (44%) and engineering (36%) with R&D (29%) and sales (29%) close behind. These skills are particularly in demand among manufacturers, says Accenture.

The reasons for the skills shortages include an inability to to attract candidates with the specific skills they need to their industry (41%), not enough qualified candidates (38%), and an inability (or unwillingeness) to  pay what candidates want (25%).

There is a positive sign that organizations are planning to ramp up training investments to address this gap. In fact, a majority of executives, 51%, plan to increase their investments in training in the next two years. Another 35% of executives whose companies are facing a skills shortage admitted that they have not invested enough in training in the past.

While nearly three-quarters of executives, 72%, identified training as one of the top ways for employees to develop new skills, 52% of workers employed by the companies surveyed currently receive company-provided, formal training.

Interestingly, among the training modes offered, 27% say they are directing employees to massive open online courses (MOOCs), which are offered by leading universities to global audiences -- and most are free, thereby not making a dent in training budgets.

Overall, close to one-third of executives, 31%, anticipate increasing their workforce over the next one to two years, while 62% expect their hiring to remain the same. That leaves only 7% intending to do any sort of scaling back. That means a lot of competition in the job market for skilled prospects.

Accenture makes the following recommendations to overcome the skills gap:

Find a balance between formal and informal learning. Digital technology is blurring the boundaries between formal and informal learning. One approach is "embedding learning in everyday work – shadowing others, mentorships, or learning from peers through online forums – can help formal online or classroom training become more relevant and more effective."

Embrace new ways to develop skills. New learning paradigms include "social media tools that facilitate collaboration and knowledge sharing, gamification that immerses employees in virtual scenarios, and mobile training delivery that allows learning to take place wherever and whenever an employee happens to be."

Expand your candidate pool. Drop "the notion of finding the 'perfect' candidate based on a list of specific skills, education or experience. Instead, look for candidates with more generalist skills – even those outside the industry, in other geographies, or with adjacent or overlapping skill sets – that can easily be developed to perform the job."

Use emerging data sources to screen talent. Throw away the resumes and "exploit new data sources as part of the effort to get fuller and more predictive insights into future performance. For example, emerging websites offer samples of a candidate's work, assessments that gauge a person's cultural fit and motivations, or social media contributions that can reveal their interests."

Invest earlier in the talent supply chain. Partner with colleges and universities "to review and revise curricula so relevant skills are acquired as part of their programs. Some companies are even setting up open access training programs to ensure that more people have the skills they need in specific regions. Once trained, the first right of employment is with the company that trained them."

— By on November 13, 2013, 11:44 AM PST

Joe McKendrick

Contributing Editor

Joe McKendrick is an independent analyst who tracks the impact of information technology on management and markets. He is a co-author of the SOA Manifesto and has written for Forbes, ZDNet and Database Trends & Applications. He holds a degree from Temple University. He is based in Pennsylvania. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure