There’s a very slim volume out from Wharton Press called, Why Good People Can’t Get Jobs. It’s by Peter Cappelli, a management professor from the University of Pennsylvania, who adapted the book from a series of articles he wrote for the Wall Street Journal in 2010 and 2011. Not all of it applies to Canada (it’s a very US-focussed book), but enough of it does that I think it’s worth a read for everyone with an interest in the skills debate.
The book takes a simple “myth-busting” approach to the skills debate, much of which would be familiar to those of you who read this blog regularly (notably, with respect to how skills shortages are defined, and whether or not employers have considered the simple approach of “raising wages” as a way to solve said shortages). But Cappelli makes three additional specific points that I think need to be more fully considered by everyone involved in the skills debate:
1) Electronic job applications have revolutionized large-company hiring practices – but not necessarily for the better. Because the internet has vastly lowered the barriers to application, companies have been flooded with applications. Their response has been to automate the search process. What tends to happen is that employers, in an attempt to keep numbers manageable, simply search for keywords on CVs – keywords that screen out far too many people. This leads to a situation where the only people eligible for the job are people who have already done the job. (There’s also an amusing anecdote about an HR firm CEO who suspected this was happening at his own company, and so sent in his own CV, incognito. He was rejected.)
2) Hiring new workers isn’t like shopping at Home Depot. For any given body of work that a company undertakes, many different hiring strategies exist. You could, for instance, do a job with a few highly-skilled workers and a lot of low-skilled workers, or an intermediate number of intermediate-skilled workers. While certain job-specific skills are necessary, companies mainly need portfolios of skills across their entire workforce. And the most important skill is the ability to work hard and be adaptable – precisely the kind of thing that hiring managers have trouble determining from keyword searches.
3) North America (he says the US, but I think Canada fits this definition too) is the only place in the world that thinks of companies as consumers of skills. Pretty much everywhere else in the world, they are thought of at least partly as producers of skills, because they do radical things like “training”. If we have elevated expectations of our post-secondary institutions, why do we not have elevated expectations of employers as well? Sure, it’s great when colleges and universities turn out prepared graduates, talented graduates, adaptable graduates. But fully-trained, already-able-to-do-the-job graduates? Employers have to be more realistic, and step up to the plate themselves.
All in all, a worthwhile contribution to the debate. Pick it up.