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Do we have a skill deficit in our workforce today?

You bet! And it will last for some time.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor statistics, at the end of January, the U.S. economy had 7.6 million unfilled jobs, but only 6.5 million people were looking for work. With a 3.7 percent unemployment rate, the U.S. is experiencing its lowest level of unemployment in nearly 49 years. For almost a year now, the number of open jobs each month has been higher than the number of people looking for work.

Alexia Fernandez Campbell from VOX.com recently reported that this is the first time we’ve seen such a shortage of capable applicants since the Department of Labor began tracking job turnover two decades ago. Reuters reported in November of 2018 that hiring was dragging down the economy and suggested that the recent slowdown in job growth was most likely because employers could not find qualified workers. “Companies are begging for help to produce and sell their goods and services,” the report states.

This month, CBSnews.com reported that the areas having the toughest time finding workers are those that are blue-collar and lower-paid. But this goes beyond just manual labor and low-paid jobs.

Walmart recently announced it is raising truck drivers’ annual pay to nearly $90,000. Due to an industry-wide shortage, truckers’ pay has increased more than three times the rate of the overall workforce. The health care field is similarly scrambling to keep up with the demand of our aging baby boomers. The lack of orderlies, nurses, nursing assistants and home health care workers is reaching a concerning level.

Our educational system is beginning to do something about this. As evidenced by the money and effort being put into STEM programs. Also, technical colleges and training centers across the country are partnering with businesses to promote apprenticeship programs.

This is all good, but much work must be done.  And this is only part of the challenge that organizations are facing.

The future of the workplace is changing and so are the candidates coming to the employment line. Attitude and expectations of new applicants seem to be wanting. Finding workers who are the right “fit” for demanding work environments is a hurdle many employers face.

The best employers are adapting to this by placing more consideration on the personal needs of employees and by looking at candidates differently.

With all that said, what is the number-one thing employers list among their hiring needs today? The answer is candidates with a strong work attitude (often referred to as work ethic or softs skills).

A new Harris Poll on behalf of talent and outsourcing company YOH confirms that soft skills (e.g., dependability, enthusiasm) overwhelmingly win in the battle over technical skills and experience. In the survey, which included 2,000 participants, 75 percent of respondents would hire a candidate with soft skills over one with the right qualifications or experience.

In his Forbes.com article, “What Are the Top 10 Soft Skills for the Future of Work?”, Adi Gaskell, a contributor to Careers, noted that the University of Memphis anticipates collaborative problem solving as being the most important skill in the coming decade.

This is consistent with E.A.S.I-Consult’s® experience. One of the most important work attitudes we’ve found over the last 15 years of customizing pre-employment tests is that team orientation, or collaboration, is key to long-term job success. Other soft skills/work attitude dimensions witnessed as critical to success are dependability, adaptability and customer-centric (going above and beyond a customer’s expectations), to name just a few.

Gaskell also reported that the emphasis on soft skills emerged in an analysis by the online learning provider, Udemy. They found that increasingly more companies are requiring employees to take courses in soft skills.

We applaud this effort but are cautious about the limited success of soft skill training. As difficult it is to define soft skills, changing human behavior at this level is even more challenging. We’ve witnessed that addressing this after hire is too late.

Screening for attitude – which encompasses these soft skills – is essential. You typically can train for technical skills. There is very little evidence that training for attitude is affective. This is why I tend to repeat the adage, “Hire for attitude, train for skills.” Training for technical skills is straightforward and very effective

E.A.S.I-Consult has helped companies screen for attitude for over 15 years with our Work Styles Predictor® (work attitude test) with very positive results. For more information on this contact david.smith@easiconsult.com or visit our website.

David Smith, PhD, is the president and CEO of E•A•S•I-Consult®. E•A•S•I-Consult works with Fortune 500 companies, government agencies, and mid-sized corporations to provide customized Talent Management solutions. E•A•S•I-Consult specialties include leadership and leadership potential assessment, online employment assessment including aptitude testing, competency modeling, leadership development, executive coaching, 360-degree feedback, online structured interviews, survey research, and EEO hiring compliance. The company is a leader in the field of providing accurate information about people through professional assessment. To learn more about E•A•S•I-Consult, visit www.easiconsult.com, email ContactUs@easiconsult.com or call 800.922.EASI.