Education alone isn't enough, tech pros need specialized skills, too

74% of HR hiring decision makers agree that a talent gap persists in the US. Here's how to solve it.

A recent report from the US Chamber of Commerce Foundation found that the majority (74%) of HR decision makers agreed that a skills gap persists in the US workforce. 

When looking for talent to fill the gap, hiring managers are looking more for specialized skills than additional degrees, the report found. 

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"We know that there is a pretty big gap between hiring requirements and what are people prepared to do," said Jason Tyszko, vice president of the Center for Education and Workforce at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation. 

"And a lot of that has to do with the misalignment between what's [needed] on the demand side and what's being taught in our classrooms and how people are being prepared for those opportunities," Tyszko said. 

Historically, young professionals equated education to success. The more degrees one has, the more successful they could become. 

However, the tide appears to be shifting. A hybrid approach to education and skills might be more effective. 

Skills over degrees

The Hiring in the Modern Talent Marketplace report found that skills-based hiring is becoming a more popular mode of finding candidates. 

With how quickly technology and trends are changing, specialized skills are appearing to be more valuable for organizations than broad degrees.

"Before, you could have a generalized skill set. With the way the labor market worked and where the economy was at, that was good enough," Tyszko said. 

"That's no longer the case. The specialization that's happening in the economy today isn't that you can just get any degree and you're going to be OK," Tyszko said. "That is no guarantee of success."

While 74% of respondents said the submission of an educational credential is still necessary for employment, the addition of generalized degrees are not. Skills are becoming more of a focal point. 

More than two-thirds of respondents (67%) said the use of skills assessments as part of the interview process will increase in the next year. 

But higher education institutions aren't helping the cause, or may not be aware of it, Tyszko said. 

"The education side may not know about what's going on, or they might not see it as their responsibility to care about what's going on or to prepare people for careers," Tyszkos said. 

Even if they do know the problem exists, institutions aren't doing much to help, whether it be creating partnerships that forge specialization programs or altering curriculum to reflect more skills-based pathways, he added. 

"Oftentimes they're feeding what I would call the 'spot market,' meaning they're just churning people out that have education and credentials, and leaving it to the students to connect [themselves] to opportunities," Tyszko said. "It's left to the individual to navigate that morass."

However, many organizations are taking it upon themselves to forge partnerships with higher education institutions. Two-thirds (65%) of respondents said they believe those relationships are  extremely effective at providing the right talent to their organization. 

A hybrid approach 

Regardless of partnerships, Tyszko recommended students take a hybrid approach to education—one that combines degrees with specializations. 

"You're going to find people developing a mix, where even if you're in a degree program, you do need to develop some kind of specialized skill set," Tyszko said. "You need breadth of knowledge and you need to demonstrate that you could function across an enterprise in a team environment; you know a little bit about everything; and you have the capacity to learn and adapt and be agile.

"A specialized skill set gives you a competitive advantage in the labor market," he added. 

Whether it's through coding courses, bootcamps, or online certifications, students have the ability to be proactive in their learning and become more competitive in the workforce.  

This focus on specialization also creates an opening for companies that offer alternative education, Tyszko said. 

"It's a huge opportunity for alternative training providers to now get in the businesses and say, 'I can provide you with alternative credentials like digital badges, microcredentials, and nanodegrees. I can provide you with a skill set that is specialized and transparent, and I will function almost like a staffing agency, and I will place you in an opportunity, and I'll get you good reviews,'" Tyszko said. 
 
"You're going to see this proliferation of alternative pathways and providers, and even colleges will get in the game. There'll be new product lines. We're still going to have that traditional higher education experience, but I think it's going to get right-sized," he added. 

For more, check out 11 popular IT certifications and cross-certifications that pay the most on TechRepublic.

Methodology 

The report was commissioned by the US Chamber of Commerce Foundation with respondents from Cint. It surveyed 500 US hiring decision makers to determine the current state of the US hiring landscape.

Also see 

People learning software engineering

Image: nd3000, Getty Images/iStockphoto