Why Companies Aren’t Getting the Employees They Need

In October, Dr. Peter Cappelli, director of the Center for Human Resources at The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, wrote an interesting article for the Wall Street Journal, “Why Companies Aren’t Getting the Employees They Need”. In it, Dr. Cappelli noted,

With an abundance of workers to choose from, employers are demanding more of job candidates than ever before. They want prospective workers to be able to fill a role right away, without any training or ramp-up time. In other words, to get a job, you have to have that job already. It’s a Catch-22 situation for workers–and it’s hurting companies and the economy.

In a previous posting, I highlighted that same conundrum … you have to have job experience to get a job … there’s no starting point. The article generated such a strong reader response, particularly because he identified the business community as being at fault, not the educational system. He followed up with another article, further explaining how corporations use “automated screening” of job applicants and how they need to accept responsibility for the lack of planning (for lead times) in obtaining skilled workers. With regard to lead times, he commented,

Silicon Valley pretty much invented the “free agent” model of hiring for new skills rather than training and letting workers go once those skills aren’t needed.

Dr Cappelli feels that it is the responsibility of the companies and corporations to build the skills of their employees. Several business bloggers took exception to Dr. Cappelli’s statements. One of whom, Cheryl Oldham, Vice President, U.S. Forum for Policy Innovation, US Chamber of Commerce (USCOC) and Board Member of the USCOC’s Institute for a Competitive Workforce, felt that the problem did not belong to the companies, but to the American educational system:

If the problem were as simple as tweaking some hiring practices and increasing workplace training, it would be done by now. … Too many of our children are leaving high school without the knowledge and skills they need to be successful in college or the workforce.

For those of us who benefited from the consulting/technology apprenticeship programs of the 1980’s and 90’s, a response to her statement might be, “It was simple and it was effective.”

This discussion progressed into a radio broadcast discussion between Ms. Oldham and Dr. Cappelli, hosted by Minnesota Public Radio and reported on by Susan Seitel, in the Huffington Post. If you haven’t hear the discussion, “Why companies aren’t getting the employees they need?”, I suggest that you follow the links below and spend 45 minutes reflecting on this issue. While both participants and callers made their points, Dr. Cappelli’s conclusion was perhaps the most on target,

What employers say the want, uniformly, in the surveys for at least 25 years, is they want work-based skills. They don’t want theoretical stuff. They want work-based skills.  The best way to do that, to learn that material, is on-the-job, in an apprentice-like arrangement. … The problem that most of the workers now are having, especially [new graduates], is the application wants work experience already. In an apprenticeship-like program, the economics of this basically says what you pay people less while they get the training. That’s a perfectly reasonable thing to do. You see this also with tuition reimbursement programs. The employer pays the tuition. The student-employee goes to school on their own time, nights and weekends, and they’re co-investing.

Without focusing on the fault, he highlighted the need for a “co-investing” that needs to occur between the employee and the employer. They need to work together to develop the skills the company looks for, even if it requires unpaid or reduced pay time during that training period.

The co-investment of workers and employers is clearly defined in a mentor-apprentice program. The company provides the mentor and the apprentices provide work-products while they learn. Both groups invest time/effort. Both gain benefit.


Dr Peter Cappelli, “Why Companies Aren’t Getting the Employees They Need”, WSJ, 24 October 2011

Dr Peter Cappelli, “’Why Companies Aren’t Getting the Employees They Need’: The Author Follows Up”, WSJ 26 October 2011

Mrs. Cheryl Oldham “Why Companies REALLY Can’t Find the Employees They Need” 3 Part blog entry, 3, 4 & 7 November 2011 [Part 2] [Part 3]

Ms. Susan Seitel, “A Skills Shortage Or Unrealistic Expectations?”, The Huffington Post, 2 December 2011

The discussion on Minnesota Public Radio, “Why companies aren’t getting the employees they need” Broadcast: Midmorning, 11/30/2011, 9:06 a.m.


2 responses to “Why Companies Aren’t Getting the Employees They Need

  1. Pingback: Software Screening Rejects Job Seekers – WSJ.com « Ye Olde Soapbox

  2. Pingback: Why you can’t get a job (even when you’re qualified and the company is hiring) – Post Leadership – The Washington Post « Ye Olde Soapbox

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