How Companies Can Get the Employees They Need

Published oct. 26, 2011

In Monday’s Wall Street Journal, Peter Cappelli makes some compelling points in his article entitled “Why Companies Aren’t Getting the Employees They Need.” His take on the long running debate on whether there is in fact a skill shortage in the United States today is that employers are expecting too much. In essence, he describes employers’ desire for “plug and play” employees that are ready to perform jobs with little or no training.

As a manager who does a fair amount of hiring, part of me read the article and thought “guilty as charged.” In today’s economy, I have been able to find highly qualified workers to fill my open positions and I have high expectations of those new hires and, to a large degree, expect them to hit the ground running. However, when I took a minute and thought back to the early days of my working life, I have to say that the best experience and grounding in the world of work I got was through entry level jobs as a teenager, internships during college and other part-time work under the guidance of supportive supervisors that taught me the rules of the road. The formal and informal training I received in those positions was invaluable and provided a great foundation for my career. I believe that all young people who are preparing to enter the labor force as well as experienced workers who are facing the need to switch careers would greatly benefit from structured work experience in order to build their skills and help them navigate today’s labor market.

I support the three solutions that Cappelli’s identifies: work with education providers; bring back aspects of apprenticeship; and promote from within. Much of JFF’s workforce development work supports these solutions. For example, our Jobs to Careers initiative which focused on developing career advancement strategies for frontline health care workers, is a proven strategy for enabling employers to promote from within through work-based learning. I encourage you to check out our recently released online Work-based Learning Tool Kit that provides employers resources to help them implement this strategy in their workplace.

We have also seen sector-based approaches to workforce development have a positive impact on regional economies across the country. Through employer-led workforce partnerships, we see employers in a common sector coming together to develop training strategies to address their common human capital needs. For example, four major health care employers in Cincinnati have come together to form a health care career pathway system. Together these companies employ nearly 65% of the region’s healthcare workers and represent close to 50,000 workers. One example of their outcomes is that they have taken one of Cappelli’s suggestion, tuition reimbursement, one step further. Instead of just reimbursing employees for courses they have taken, all of the employers changed policy to permit their incumbent workers who are enrolling in the healthcare pathway to pre-pay tuition and thus permit a more diverse workforce development effort since employees do not need to pay tuition out of pocket and wait for reimbursement. This allows all employees to take advantage of education and training opportunities, not just those who are able to afford the upfront cost. All of the employers do this—it’s a condition of being in the pathway.

As we look ahead to workforce strategies that will be effective in today’s economy, I believe finding ways to scale proven approaches as well as how to encourage increased employer involvement, investment and innovation will be critical to success.