We have a major skills gap in this country; applicants are not qualified; schools aren’t preparing students for jobs; the government isn’t letting in enough high-skill immigrants; and even when the match is right, prospective employees won’t accept jobs at the wages offered. We’ve all heard it. But is it true?

A new book by Wharton Management Professor, Peter Cappelli, turns the tables on the ever popular argument that applicants simply do not have the skills needed for today’s jobs. In his book, Why Good People Can’t Get Jobs, Cappelli argues that companies themselves are really the ones to blame. They lack hiring expertise and have little information about actual training costs. Instead, more companies are turning to computerized applicant tracking systems that can make it harder, not easier, to find qualified job candidates. Capelli explores the gap between employer expectations and applicant realities while outlining an actionable path forward to put people back to work.

1. Set Realistic Job Requirements
“Employers are looking for somebody who is currently doing exactly the same job someplace else,” says Capelli. Companies are looking for incredibly specific skill sets and instead of looking for someone who can do the job, they are looking for someone that currently does that exact job. He argues that therein lays the real problem. Instead of recognizing that employees are an investment that can be nurtured and trained, companies set unrealistic job requirements.

2. Invest in Training
Capelli highlights the serious lack of training in corporate America today. He says employers have failed to promote internal training for current employees and future hires. He references a study in his book that found that in 1979, young workers received an average of 2.5 weeks of training per year. By 1991, only 17% of young employees reported getting any training during the previous year, and by last year, only 21% said they received training during the previous 5 years. Capelli raises the question, if everyone is looking for someone with 3 to 5 years experience, where are they expected to get it? He calls for a resurgence of the work-based training and internship models that have worked in the past and work in many industries (medical, accounting, law). He also highlights the lack of collaboration between employers who want to fill positions that require college graduates and the colleges that produce those graduates.

3. Assess what it costs to leave a position vacant
Nobody wants to be the company to give people the initial experience they need, meanwhile they can’t actually fill their open positions. Cappelli asks, “Does it make sense to keep vacancies unfilled for months to avoid having to give new hires with less-than-perfect skills time to get up to speed?” Most companies know what it costs to fill a position, but they have no idea what it cost to leave the position vacant. They have no idea when it begins to hurt their business, their growth and their profitability. When companies fail to realize the hidden costs associated with all their unfilled positions they delay hiring.

4. Put the Human Element Back Into Business
Capelli argues that we have an over reliance on technology. By relying too heavily on computerized applicant tracking systems that scan resumes for specific terms, qualifications and experience, employers are not only not finding what they’re looking for, they aren’t getting a clear picture. Employees are more than the specific skill sets they bring to a job. Year after year companies list values like work ethic, accountability, problem-solving skills and punctuality at the top of their needs list, yet the hiring process takes little of these factors into account. He also talks about why companies are hurting themselves by discriminating against older workers or people who have been out of the job market for a while. He says it makes sense to train people and it makes sense to give people a chance.



Author: April Jennings