Skills Gap or Generation Gap?

By Ruby Randall

There’s a great deal of conversation today about the “skills gap.”

In short, that there’s a gap between the skills required for available jobs and the capabilities of those seeking jobs in today’s highly competitive market.

The Milken Institute notes that in 1960 only 20 percent of jobs required skilled labor. Now, more than 50 years later, that figure is north of 65 percent. More than 75 percent of Vistage CEOs have told us that it is difficult to find qualified people. Many people assert that continued high unemployment is in part influenced by this dynamic in the marketplace.

While some fault our education system for not properly preparing its students, there’s another, less talked about, factor that comes into play. With Baby Boomers hiring Gen Y-ers, there’s a generational disconnect that’s hard to ignore.

Imagine how different the world looks to someone who grew up during the Cold War, who remembers black and white television, and who knows what it feels like to have actually “dialed” a phone — versus a recent college graduate, whose memory of September 11 is fresh in their minds and who has been plugged into a digital world since birth. These generations not only see the world differently, but they have different standards and play by different rules. It’s yet another reason for the so-called “skills gap.”

One terrific example can be found in evaluating “quality writing.”

It’s DEFINITELY generational.

I come across senior leaders all the time who say that our young people can’t write anymore — that the English language is eroding before our very eyes. They talk fondly about their days of diagramming sentences and how such attention to proper grammar is a lost art.

Dr. Andrea Lunsford, who led the Study of Writing at Stanford, would beg to differ.

After reviewing thousands upon thousands of student writing samples, including everything from term-papers to text messages, it was determined (among other things) that today’s students write with greater frequency, do so across more platforms, and actually tailor messages to their specific audiences much more skillfully than their older critics. So it begs the question of whether there’s a true skills gap or just an evaluation of skills bias.

What do you think? Is the skills gap being artificially widened by the generation gap? Are we judging today’s young people by yesterday’s criteria? Or do you believe that young people entering today’s workforce are not as well prepared as they should be to help you grow your business?
Originally published: Sep 12, 2011

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