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13 Sep 2012

Plug ‘n Play Employees: Not Enough Qualified People

How many times have employers exclaimed, “It’s so difficult to find qualified people”? Well, James Surowiecki’s article, “Mind the Gap” (The New Yorker, July 9 & 16, 2012 edition) ironically claims it’s the employers who are creating their own problem.

I first experienced this when a friend working for a local manufacturer claimed they couldn’t find a qualified candidate in an inch-thick stack of resumes. Surowiecki cites a similar experience by Peter Cappelli of Wharton from his book Why Good People Can’t Get Jobs in which one company turned down 25,000 applicants for a standard engineer’s job! How? Why? A good venture capital opportunity is easier to find.

There are five major aspects to the problem:

  1. Employers want what I call “Plug ‘n Play” Employees who can do the job now with little or no training.
  2. Employers have reduced or eliminated training.
  3. Management teams are too lean to be able to provide much coaching and mentoring.
  4. Recruiting and hiring processes have become more focused on keywords than on key skills that might indicate potential connections from one job type to another.
  5. Employers have narrowed their parameters; fewer candidates make it through the gauntlet.

As a result, Surowiecki summarizes the problem this way:

When companies complain that they can’t find people with the right “skills,” they often just mean that they can’t find people with the right experience.

Consequently, we come to view employment candidates as the sum of their experiences, thus causing us to pigeonhole them rather than viewing them as acquirers of skills. This only encourages us to claim that because there isn’t any low hanging fruit there must not be any fruit.

Still, it doesn’t seem this problem will go away until recruiting software becomes better at assessing talent than just keywords.


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