Can Diversity Be the Solution to the Skills Gap?

Diverse employees

Employers, especially those in the construction and manufacturing industries, are having trouble finding candidates to fill their positions. While the reasons behind the skills gap are being debated, what’s clear is that employers need to find new ways to find candidates.

More and more, companies are viewing diversity as a way to close the skills gap. Pursuing gender, ethnicity, and life experience as avenues to finding workers can open employers to new pools of candidates.

Understanding the Skills Gap

The skills gap is a real problem for American employers and can be explained by a combination of various factors, including:

  • Lack of Trained Candidates: In industries like construction, healthcare, and manufacturing, there simply aren’t enough graduates from programs to support their industries.
  • Lack of Soft Skills: Despite having necessary technical skills, many employees lack qualities that make them great employees and leaders. A recent survey of 500 senior executives found that 44% of executives of American companies believed that their workers lack skills in communication, creativity, critical thinking, and collaboration.
  • Narrow Candidate Searching: Many employers look to automated job matching programs where they list out specific qualifications. In some cases, these factors are too narrow and don’t pull in many candidates.

How Diversity Can Fill the Gap

Review Your Recruitment and HR Programs

Company recruitment processes often include overlooked or unintentional biases that make diverse hiring a challenge. The manufacturing workforce, for example, consists of only twenty-five percent women. Look inward to see how employees from underrepresented groups feel about your company’s recruitment efforts. Do they feel your company actively seeks out diverse employees? What hiring channels are you missing? Should the wording of your job postings be changed?

Feedback shouldn’t stop there. Job satisfaction can impact retention and referral rates, so it’s important to ensure people of diverse backgrounds are happy. Mentorship programs can match people with established employees of similar backgrounds to learn how to navigate their industries. All these questions can be answered during regularly scheduled reviews so companies can monitor improvements in their policies.

Recruiting Early

Companies of all kinds can fall into routines when recruiting. Those that limit their recruitment to recent college grads, for example, are missing out on potential candidates from diverse backgrounds. Overall, only 30% of people in the United States hold a bachelor’s degree, while only 56% of college students earn degrees within six years.

No matter the employee needs of the company, recruiting from different candidate pools can help attract more employees. This can include programs on community college campuses and trade schools. Companies should consider working with high schools to create programs that expose students to their industries. This way, groups that don’t always make it to higher levels of education have a better chance of being found by potential employers.

Blind Testing

Talented and skilled people can be found from people of all backgrounds, companies just need to know where to look. For instance, software companies have turned to companies like HackerRank and CodeFights to find diverse sets of employees.

What makes these sites so special? Both sites anonymize candidates so companies can’t guess who they are. This “blind testing” levels the playing field and allows candidates with non-traditional backgrounds (e.g. no high school diploma, minority origin, women) to be found by searching companies. In fact, one company that used HackerRank’s found a candidate who was working as a dishwasher because she was in the five percent of people who beat the company’s bot tests.

The Skills Gap Won’t Close Overnight

If companies have learned anything from the hiring process, it’s that finding the right candidates takes time. Reaching out to diverse groups can introduce new people to your talent pool, yet this is only the first step in closing the skills gap. Companies need to recognize that biases can exist within their own hiring processes. Certain groups may never have been considered as having viable candidates. Strict qualifications may not be the best way to judge potential employees.

Yet the wait can pay off. Diverse employee pools can result in enhanced creativity, fresher ideas, and more spontaneous breakthroughs for the company. A recent report from the Manufacturing Institute showed that companies having women present in senior management or board positions showed higher equity returns, payout ratios, and valuations. Can diversity be the solution to the skills gap? Yes, it can, though it won’t happen overnight. All the more reason for companies to start working for change today.