The skills shortage has not abated even though hiring in the last year was anemic. As 76% of companies are expecting hiring to return to pre-pandemic levels this year, finding qualified talent will continue to be onerous. The fact is, skills shortages have long been a challenge for companies with technological advances occurring at a pace with which the educational system cannot keep up. But many companies are addressing the problem proactively, providing training and development for workers via upskilling programs. For contingent workforce programs, this is often done in partnership with their staffing providers.

A successful upskilling initiative has many benefits. For example, they can address hiring friction and reduce risk of a bad hire. Programs can see greater productivity as well, as upskilled talent are often ready to work on day one. In addition to providing the skills engagement managers seek, such programs can help reach diversity hiring goals, as some companies combine upskilling initiatives and diversity solutions, targeting specific underrepresented groups including neurodiverse talent, moms of color or providing STEM training to minorities. Here’s a look at how the industry is tackling the issue.

As director of contingent workforce for Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (Finra), Geoff Abere, is working with one such company. He was solving a problem to train and develop Finra’s talent and needed a pipeline to bridge the skills gap. He first approached his existing staffing partners but, in some cases, they wanted a 10-person commitment to provide upskilling services. Abere instead engaged Revature, which focuses on training and developing its contingent talent on software and business skills. Alongside upskilling contingents, Revature also coached Finra managers to ensure they understood how to support these workers.

Skill gap causes. The digital revolution and the pandemic have accelerated the skills gap and the need for training. Workers now need a combination of digital skills, business knowledge and experience and our educational system is simply not meeting training needs for those skills, says Ryan Craig, managing director and co-founder of Achieve Partners. Colleges prepare people for their fifth job, not their first job, he says. The biggest challenge is closing the gap between the schools and the employer. Simply put, the nature of the first job in the American economy has changed; there is just not enough training and preparation from schools on digital skills and business knowledge. He believes staffing firms (and their clients) are part of the solution and can foster relationships to close the skills gap.

Staffing’s role. Kip Wright, CEO of Genuent, believes that staffing firms are brokers of talent who have the ability to get people with the right skills ready to work. There are a variety of solutions available including a number of training programs. The most common: traditional corporate training programs for existing employees and interns. There are also IT bootcamps; apprentice programs; and hire, train, deploy models like Genuent and other companies for tech, industrial and other types of jobs. The key is that there are intermediaries between hiring companies and the educational system now that provide work readiness. Companies that don’t already should look to partner with staffing companies who can help them in this space. Buyer beware though, not all staffing companies have the infrastructure to create a successful upskilling initiative.

A successful upskilling initiative can bring many positive results. Upskilling partnerships address hiring friction and offer less risk of a bad hire. Companies with programs like Talentpath, Revature and others provide resources who are immediately productive and ready to work. Such companies can also help to enhance diversity hiring opportunities, as a number of them develop training solutions for underrepresented communities: Rangam’s SourceAbled for neurodiverse talent, The Mom Project’s RISE for moms of color, Primary Talent Partners DiversIT for STEM minorities, Yearup and others.

Needs assessment. Sometimes it’s less a skills gap and more a misaligned job requisition. Are your hiring managers checking every box for every skill? Do you need every skill? One of the best ways companies can get great talent is through engaging good staffing partners with a realistic hiring process. Your program can help ease the skills shortage on the FTE end of the spectrum as well, but encourage hiring managers and HR to embrace try before you buy and temp to hire as a talent pipeline.

The partnership. Look for an agile staffing firm that can see what you need from a cost perspective. There is usually no upfront cost for training; the intent is to hire so the try before you buy model can be a very fruitful one. An upskilling initiative can be fairly low risk and low cost for you as the client. It does require that you coach your engagement managers. However, not all staffing firms will be equipped or want to do this.

The Outlook

As we move toward a cautious recovery, the reality is that an increasing number of jobs involve technical skills, Craig says, such as two years of salesforce or advanced manufacturing, HVAC or specific digital skills for many jobs. The digital revolution and the pandemic have accelerated the skills gap. Getting the talent you need with the combination of digital skills, business knowledge and experience is not an easy task given the demand and supply curves. An upskilling partnership with the staffing partners you have always relied on for talent can go a long way.

Some of the content in the article is based on a panel discussion during SIA’s virtual Executive Forum North America. In addition to Finra’s Geoff Abere, representatives of upskilling providers discussed the skills gap, the role companies like theirs can take in addressing the problem and approaches to upskilling.