Financials

Skills Gap or Generation Gap?

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% of jobs required skilled labor and over 50 years later, it’s now north of 65%.  More than 75% 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 Yers, 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 & white television and knows what it feels like to have actually “dialed” a phone versus a recent college graduate whose memory of 9/11 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 most certainly 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?

Join the conversation.  We want to hear from ALL generations!

Category: Financials Leadership Competencies

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Avatar About the Author: Ruby Randall
  1. AR

    April 27, 2011 at 4:11 pm

    As a 30 year old employee I’ve often thought that the young get an unfair stigma. Society and its youth are not falling down a hill into pandemonium. We just live in a significantly different, and over stimulated, world.

    That said; I believe the education system is very much to blame. 20 years ago you could easily tell the skilled worked from those “faking the funk” merely by their degrees. Today it has become so easy to get a degree that it is impossible to judge the quality of an employee based on their education. Yes, some institutions still scream quality employee (Harvard et. al.), however I’m only a few months away from a degree in IT from the University of Phoenix and I hate to say it but my degree is a joke. I’ve managed to get value out of that establishment and actually learn the material but for every one of me I’ve encountered 100 more students who are skating by, doing next to nothing, not learning the subject matter, and are still going to walk away with diplomas. I don’t think this phenomenon is specific to UoP either, I’ve heard similar complaints from students at various higher learning institutions.

    My gut tells me that quality, educated, employees are no less prevalent than they were 50 years ago, just MUCH harder to identify. That added to the generation gap you’ve pointed it must make it nearly impossible to find the diamonds in the rough. I do not envy the job of executives like yourself have in trying to find the right people.

  2. AR

    April 27, 2011 at 4:11 pm

    As a 30 year old employee I’ve often thought that the young get an unfair stigma. Society and its youth are not falling down a hill into pandemonium. We just live in a significantly different, and over stimulated, world.

    That said; I believe the education system is very much to blame. 20 years ago you could easily tell the skilled worked from those “faking the funk” merely by their degrees. Today it has become so easy to get a degree that it is impossible to judge the quality of an employee based on their education. Yes, some institutions still scream quality employee (Harvard et. al.), however I’m only a few months away from a degree in IT from the University of Phoenix and I hate to say it but my degree is a joke. I’ve managed to get value out of that establishment and actually learn the material but for every one of me I’ve encountered 100 more students who are skating by, doing next to nothing, not learning the subject matter, and are still going to walk away with diplomas. I don’t think this phenomenon is specific to UoP either, I’ve heard similar complaints from students at various higher learning institutions.

    My gut tells me that quality, educated, employees are no less prevalent than they were 50 years ago, just MUCH harder to identify. That added to the generation gap you’ve pointed out must make it nearly impossible to find the diamonds in the rough. I do not envy the difficult job executives like yourself have in trying to find the right people.

  3. Marc

    April 27, 2011 at 10:16 pm

    I am a Gen X exec with a number of Digital Natives on my team and the skills gap you refer to is one of perception only. There is none in my opinion. In fact, they’re smarter than us on a number of fronts. The gap comes from our lack of nurturing those talents and our lack of understanding of how they view the world.

    My generation and Baby Boomers were brought up to believe that hard work and company loyalty was the formula for a successful career. That’s no longer the case. The CEOs of tomorrow are driven by purpose, one that stretches beyond the four walls of one organization. Their work needs to have impact on the business world as a whole and it’s up to us to loosen the clamps and provide them the freedom to pursue great things.

    Where we provide value is in guidance, helping them see pitfalls and opportunities along the way, holding them accountable to reaching goals they set out to accomplish and ensuring its alignment with the strategic imperatives of the organization.

  4. sp

    May 2, 2011 at 9:35 pm

    argh. i would love to comment. But considering that my company has not allowed me to hire for a few years and has only been RIFFing people, i have almost forgotten how to hire anymore!.

    I know there is good talent out there. I work with people of all ages and across the Globe. As far as communication goes, i dont see baby boomers have any particular edge. I am alarmed at how poorly people communicate making simple things complex unnecessarily. I really need some young blood to work with. I am very confident that i can change myself or the work environment to suite their needs and play.

    I am 43, BTW.

  5. James (jim) P. White

    May 13, 2011 at 10:23 pm

    Boomer Generation writer here. Let me say I really do not see a gap in skill-sets with either college or technical. Our “equipotential” process we use at my company defines greater “mentorship” abilities. However I do see a decrease in “volunteer” time on resumes. Is it due to time spent on social nets? Can you really change the world with a email or social posting?

    I for one would hire a civic-engaged volunteer so reflected and vetted in the HRD process faster over any PhD.  Give me some one who is groomable and teachable and is not affraid to face community social problems , say at a local food bank bagging food supplies. I would humbly suggest you read Dr. Matthew Crawfords new book “Shop-Class for Soulcraft. Every COO and board member can find the math simple enought to begin a “mentorship” equation that “excites.” Or just go with the flow. Gen-era 2 Gen dynamics is indeed the right stuff in a modern global partnership from a inside out philanthropic business proxy.Yet if the candidate is not volunteer spirited in the community and texting, and social netting is the “life-style”,How will we ever get the root field reports to blend solutions in a hands-on growth for the ….all? vr, jpw. 

  6. Randy Klein

    April 2, 2014 at 1:05 pm

    I am a 57 year-old engineer by training, technical writer by necessity. Some scientists, engineers, programmers, etc. become proficient technical writers (eventually, over time). Most, however, fall somewhere between terrible and adequate, even after many years of experience. This is not generational at all. Not all of us have an aptitude for writing, and we certainly don’t exit school with this skill.

  7. Todd Strobel

    May 31, 2014 at 2:58 pm

    The demand is coming from this upcoming powerful generation and the old guard at the executive level know and are willing to pay handsomely for an insight into the market and leaders to help them innovate! Find your passion and your purpose, pick a problem you feel called to and create value solve problems and make more money them anyone you know! You can do this!

    • jasonroth

      June 4, 2014 at 10:16 am

      Thanks for the comment Todd.

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