4 Tips for Overcoming the Skills Gap

Motivated job seekers and professionals could use the gap to their advantage.

Worker jumping from one side of the skills gap to the other
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With the presidential election just weeks away, it's clear that unemployment will be one of the top issues for American voters as they head to the polls—and with good reason. With unemployment still at 8.1 percent, there is serious concern from the Federal Reserve that it may not fall below 7 percent until the year 2015.

There is some discussion about the reasons there is such a high unemployment rate nearly four years after the Great Recession. Some point to a lack of jobs, but many believe the real culprit is a shortage of skilled workers.

In the past, this skills gap has consistently been in the areas of healthcare, information technology, and engineering—exactly the skills that are required to fill many of the jobs emerging first during this continued financial recovery. Yet statistics now show that there is also a shortage of electricians, plumbers, and medical technicians. Other surveys show that in certain industries, there is only one active job seeker for every three open positions. For example, The Manufacturing Institute reports that more than 80 percent of manufacturers are unable to find the skilled talent needed to fill their jobs, leaving more than 500,000 open manufacturing jobs right now.

It's hard to believe there are so many positions that cannot be filled during a period in which so many people are struggling to find work. However, motivated job seekers and professionals can use the skills gap to their advantage. Getting trained in fields that are experiencing a talent shortage will give a job seeker an extra advantage and allow them to be competitive in the job market again. But this doesn't come without extra effort on the part of the job seeker to find and undergo the training. Here is some advice on making that transition easier and cost-effective:

Find the right way to continue your education. It can be difficult for people with many years of workforce experience to return to school, either undergraduate or graduate. However, a degree isn't the only way to get the proper education and training needed to improve the skills gap. Several universities and even community colleges offer continuing education programs that are aimed at those simply looking to advance their existing career with courses that will tighten their skills, as well as people who want to earn an undergraduate or graduate degree later in life. Such programs, no matter what the focus, will have industry corporate partners that will either act as guest professors or offer an inside look into their organizations. This provides a built-in network for job seekers once they've completed their coursework.

Consider switching gears. You may have been trained for one career, but with a skills gap in certain industries, now is the time to consider making a change. To meet these qualifications without racking up expensive tuition bills, look for certification programs to make you a qualified candidate. For example, certifications in technology can be cost- and time-efficient while preparing you for those jobs.

Look to industry partners. There are many government and industry organizations dedicated to developing future talent in the most in-need industries. For example, there are programs that offer training to those who would like to pursue a career in manufacturing but lack the skills or education. Similarly, last year the president's jobs council launched the "10,000 Engineers" initiative, which aims to train 10,000 engineers a year to stimulate the economy and fill the skills gap.

Take advantage of innovative application methods. There are a variety of hiring and recruiting trends that offer opportunities to jump from one industry to another. For example, a new trend in job boards is to ask applicants to answer a challenge rather than submit their resume to be considered for a position. This gives you an opportunity to apply for positions outside your field and test your ability to do so without your past experience giving a first impression. This is also a good way to see what skills are in demand, so you can invest strategically in your professional development.