02:27 pm
March 23, 2017

The Skills Gap: What’s Really Missing

 By Linda Carter

The national, regional and local conversation is the same: It’s all about jobs. People want them and companies have them.

So what’s the problem? Many influential and successful business leaders believe a huge skills gap exists. Recently, this issue bubbled to the surface at the Broward Workshop, a private, nonprofit, nonpartisan business organization comprised of the chief decision-makers from 100 of Broward’s major businesses and professions. Through the Workshop, business leaders seek to facilitate positive solutions to Broward’s critical issues and broker cooperative efforts between various entities working for countywide, specific and long-range common goals.

In a recent survey of Broward Workshop members, 66 percent rated the skills gap in South Florida as highly frustrating in the search for good talent. Soft skills, defined as the ability to demonstrate team work, leadership, effective communications, motivation and time management, was identified as the cause of skills gaps three times more often than hard skills (a particular degree, technical knowledge, a foreign language). How the lack of soft skills manifests itself in the workforce was described as: 

• Lack of commitment, caring about quality and respect

• No interest in creating transformational change

• Missing a sense of professionalism

• Caring about themselves over providing for the customer

Interestingly, these respondents weren’t talking about high school graduates. Seven in 10 were referring to jobs that require a college degree, 50 percent of which were mid- or senior-level positions. The companies surveyed believe the need for these soft skills will not be diminished in the future – because it is good for business.

Corporate efforts to narrow the skills gap internally are common, with varying degrees of commitment, but as one respondent stated, “There’s no silver bullet. It takes hard work, training programs, internships, strong recruitment and brand building to develop trust and to attract and retain leaders.”

One strategy the business community embraces is internships; 66 percent of respondents suggested hosting internship programs, as they provide real-life experiences and prevents the development of poor professional habits. Almost everyone surveyed wanted to create a more robust, formalized internship program. This is encouraging, considering that a majority hire from their intern pool. In the words of one respondent, “Internships allow you to identify the best and brightest – that’s who you want to hire.”

How is the Broward Workshop moving from data collection to action? Here are five steps:

1. Focus. The Broward Workshop will focus on postsecondary students to enhance the pipeline of new talent as quickly as possible.

2. Send a loud and clear message to educational institutions that graduates must have soft skills to succeed. There is now a Soft Skills Consortium being convened that consists of all the educational institutions in our community. 

3. Create an internship toolkit the business community can use. This step-by-step “how-to” kit spearheaded by Broward College will make it easy to have a robust, effective internship program that can reduce the skills gap. 

4. Create a single point of contact to make it easier for businesses to find the right candidate among myriad internship programs. CareerSource Broward will lead this effort with the creation of an online portal.

5. Workforce Adoption. As these new tools roll out, we are going to need businesses to vet, beta test and, ultimately, adopt these tools for full implementation.

If we tackle this issue collectively, we can increase employment, prosperity and the vitality of our South Florida community. ¿

Linda B. Carter is president and CEO of the Community Foundation of Broward and is the co-chair of the Broward Workshop Skills Gap Task Force along with James Donnelly, founder and CEO of Castle Group. Under Carter’s leadership, the Community Foundation of Broward will invest $1.5 million in the next five years to develop the soft skills of Broward County youth.

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