Episode #42 – What the Skills Gap Means for Employers in Today’s Market

Sharita: Welcome to “The Animal Health Employment Insider,” brought to you by The VET Recruiter. In this podcast, search consultant Stacy Pursell, founder and CEO of The VET Recruiter, provides insight and practical advice for both companies and job seekers in the Animal Health industry and Veterinary profession. The VET Recruiter’s mission is to help Animal Health and Veterinary organizations acquire top talent, while helping professionals attain career-enhancing opportunities that increase their quality of life.

In today’s podcast, we’ll be talking about the skills gap and what it means for employers in today’s market. Welcome, Stacy. Thank you for joining us.

Stacy: Hello, Sharita. I’m glad to be here today.

Sharita: Stacy, we’ll be talking about the skills gap in this country. But before we dive into that subject, though, can you provide a definition and maybe a little background about what the skills gap is?

Stacy: I certainly can. The skills gap is the gap that exists between what organizations and companies need in terms of skill and experience from candidates and the candidates’ ability to actually provide those skills.

Sharita: So in essence, employers need employees with a certain set of skills, but not a lot of candidates have that certain set of skills?

Stacy: That’s right. In fact, I have some statistics from this past year to back that up. Twice during the past 12 months, the United States set a record for the number of job openings in the country. The first record was 6 million job openings. Then a few months later, a new record was set at 6.2 million job openings. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics first started tracking this number in 2000, and these were the highest numbers recorded since that year.

Sharita: I heard recently that the unemployment rate in the country is the lowest that it’s been in years. How does that fit into this discussion?

Stacy: Yes, the unemployment rate during the past several months has been hovering right around 4.2%. And you’re right, that’s the lowest the unemployment rate has been during the past 16 years.

So all of these statistics lead us to a couple of conclusions. First, the economy is doing well. There would not be this many job openings if the economy was not doing well. Employers have the need to hire, and more importantly, they have the money necessary to hire. Second, since there are so many open positions, employers can’t find the candidates they want to hire to fill those positions. Employers can’t hire just anybody. They have to hire people with the necessary skills and experience.

So we’re looking at a couple of possibilities. Either the people that these employers want to hire simply don’t exist, or there aren’t enough of the people they want to hire and those people are working somewhere else. The reality of the situation is that the second scenario is more plausible. Companies and organizations are looking for job candidates with specialized skill sets and experience, but they’re not able to find those job candidates. They can’t find enough of them, at the very least.

Sharita: This skills gap, where does it exist? Does it exist in certain industries?

Stacy: It does exist in some industries more than others. They include Information Technology, Engineering, and Manufacturing. Many of the jobs within those industries require highly specialized skill sets. In fact, any industry or profession that incorporates technology is likely to be experiencing a skills gap of some kind.

Sharita: Why is that?

Stacy: Technology is always advancing and progressing. When technology evolves that quickly, it’s difficult for the workforce to continually produce workers and employees who are completely up-to-date on the latest in technological trends and developments. In this sense, there is always a lag between supply and demand. But in some instances, there’s more than a lag in the number of candidates with the necessary skills and experience. There is a definite gap, and there’s no telling when—or how—that gap is going to be closed.

Sharita: What about the Animal Health industry and the Veterinary profession. Is there a skills gap there?

Stacy: There is absolutely a skills gap there. It really is a matter of supply and demand. Organizations within the Animal Health industry and Veterinary profession have a need, or a demand, for workers and employees with a certain skill set and experience. However, there is simply not enough of those people in the employment marketplace to meet that demand.

Sharita: Is advancing technology the reason for that, like it is in some of the other industries that you mentioned?

Stacy: That’s one of the reasons, but it’s not the only reason. The fact of the matter is that not enough people are choosing to go into the Animal Health industry or Veterinary profession. Think of it this way. Every year, a certain number of people choose to go into those fields, and every year, the number of Animal Health jobs and Veterinary jobs grows. If the number of job openings outpaces the number of people who are choosing to go into those fields . . .

Sharita: Then that’s where the gap comes from. And unless the number of people going into the fields is greater than the number of new job openings, the gap will become even wider.

Stacy: That’s right. Not only will the gap not get small, but it will actually get bigger. And then add to that the technology component we discussed earlier. Technology does play a role in the Animal Health industry and Veterinary profession. Technological machines and tools are used all the time, and new ones are developed and released every year. There are only so many people in the marketplace who have complete familiarity and are able to operate these tools.

Sharita: So that just contributes even more to the skills gap, especially for those jobs that require highly specialized skills.

Stacy: Correct. So as you can see, the skills gap is real. It exists in the broader economy and employment marketplace and it exists within the Animal Health industry and Veterinary profession.

Sharita: What does this mean for employers? What kind of impact does it have on them?

Stacy: Well, to put it simply, if employers want to hire successfully, that means they’re going to have to find the people they want to hire. If they just wait for these people to come to them, they’ll be waiting for a long time.

Sharita: Because these people are already employed and not even looking for a new job, is that right?

Stacy: That’s right. These are exactly the conditions that contribute to a candidates’ market, which we’ve discussed on more than one occasion on this podcast. We’ve discussed it largely from the point of view of the candidate, but today we’re going to focus on the employer. That’s because in a candidates’ market, while candidates have more options, employers have fewer options.

Sharita: What are employers’ options when dealing with the skills gap and a candidates’ market?

Stacy: Unfortunately for them, there are not that many. First and foremost, online job advertisements are not a good option. We’ve discussed that at length before, so there’s no need to address that again here. One thing that employers can do is train and develop their current employees and promote from within.

Sharita: Do you mean like “growing their employees up” so they can fill the highly specialized roles that they need filled?

Stacy: Yes, that’s right. It’s an option and it can be a good option, if done correctly. However, it does have its limitations and is not a cure-all for current market conditions. First, there’s no guarantee that the employees you attempt to “grow up” will do so successfully. Second, it’s difficult to determine how long the maturation process will take. Time is of the essence when it comes to filling these types of positions. There are just so many variables and unknowns involved that it’s a difficult course to navigate. Not only that, but it also requires a tremendous amount of time, energy, and attention.

Sharita: What other options do employers have?

Stacy: There’s really only one other option. Employers need to be proactive about finding the people they want to hire. Remember, these people are working for someone else. I know that we’ve discussed these steps in one form or another before, but I’m going to reiterate them because they’re so important. If you want to hire top talent in the Animal Health industry or Veterinary profession in this current marketplace, you must do the following things.

First, identify the people that you want to hire. In other words, identify the best candidates for your open positions, including those people working at other companies.

Second, make those people aware of your employment opportunity. That’s the only way they’re going to know about it.

Third, convince these candidates that your employment opportunity is better than the job they have right now. Remember, they’re not going to believe that right away. You have to convince them. Otherwise, they’re not going to pay any attention to you.

Fourth, convince these candidates to enter your organization’s hiring process and keep them engaged during the process. You can’t just forget about them once they enter the process. If you forget about them, they will drop out and you will probably never see them again.

And fifth, make an attractive offer of employment to your top choice for the position. The offer has to be attractive or the candidate will reject the offer. That’s the reality of the current marketplace.

Sharita: Can an organization do all of these things without the help of a search consultant?

Stacy: It can, but it would require a lot of time, energy, and effort. And once again, search consultants have a ton of information about candidates in the marketplace, especially top passive candidates who are already employed. They know which candidates would make a move and the kind of opportunity and offer that would convince them to make a move. It’s tough for companies to have that type of information at their fingertips.

When you’re dealing with the skills gap and the challenges that it presents, partnering with a search consultant is an intelligent hiring strategy.

Sharita: Stacy, it certainly makes perfect sense to me. Thank you for sharing all of this great information today.

Stacy: Thank you, Sharita. I look forward to our next podcast!