Understanding The Skills Gap: Why Employers Have Trouble Hiring

Photo courtesy of David Blackwell via Flickr.

A lack of qualified candidates for open positions has some economists claiming there is a major skills gap in the U.S.

The skills gap is a hotly debated concept used to explain why companies consistently report trouble hiring qualified workers both nationally and internationally, even though the number of unemployed people doubles that of job openings in America.

Here’s what you should know about why it’s a concept worth understanding — even if many disregard it as myth.

The U.S. skills gap: facts and figures

According to the Manpower’s 2014 Talent Shortage report:

  • 40 percent of U.S. employers report difficulty filling jobs
  • 56 percent of U.S. employers believe the shortage has a medium to high impact on meeting client needs
  • The hardest jobs to fill are skilled trade workers, hotel and restaurant staff, sales representatives, teachers, and drivers

According to CareerBuilder’s 2014 report:

  • A company loses more than $14,000 for every job that stays vacant for three months or longer
  • 54 percent of U.S. employers currently have open positions for which they can’t find qualified candidates
  • The hardest positions to fill are mathematical and computer occupations, architecture and engineering occupations, management occupations, and health care occupations.

What’s driving the gap?

The reasons behind reported gaps in talent are more difficult to pin down, but stem from some core issues. Some of these include:

  • Education and workforce disparity: The education labor supply in the U.S. isn’t keeping up with the demand for workers, leading to oversupply in some areas and scarcity in others — especially middle-skill jobs
  • Wage expectation: Some employers aren’t willing to pay what the market dictates for certain positions
  • Requirements: Nearly one third of employers hire college graduates for positions previously only held by high school graduates
  • Training: Employers seek experienced workers and may prefer not to spend extra time and money on training, which is problematic for recent graduates


The skills gap has been called a myth, or an excuse for not hiring, by a range of publications. Such thinkers wager that the issue isn’t necessarily a lack in skill, but employers’ unrealistic selectivity and unwillingness to train or negotiate with new employees.

In fact, some say that we suffer not from a skills gap, but an abundance of overqualified, over-educated albeit under-trained workers, and a workforce unwilling to put in the training investment in spite of qualified candidates.

Regardless on your take, the numbers indicate that even if the gap is self-perpetuated by employers or workers, it’s still an issue that merits fixing, for both those seeking jobs and those seeking to fill them.

Originally published on November 18, 2014. 

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Jennifer Markert