With unemployment rates at a historic low, the U.S. is in the midst of a labor shortage: There are about 7 million job openings in the U.S. right now, with only 6.2-6.3 million people looking for work. This is making the growing skills gap even worse.

We hear about these concerns when talking to HR professionals, who are very much worried about their talent, asking questions like:

  • Where and how can we find the best candidates?
  • How can we retain talent in the face of stiff competition?
  • How can we prepare employees for the inevitable disruption of emerging technologies?

Quality training is the answer for each of these. With the right type of training that fits into your overall corporate strategy, you’ll be able to find the best talent, keep them motivated, and be ready for whatever changes your industry has in store.

Unfortunately, some executives have a knee-jerk reaction to a labor shortage. They pull back on training, afraid that they’ll be investing in workers who will just walk out the door when a better offer presents itself.

The reality is that the opposite is true: More and better training is exactly what’s needed when facing a labor shortage and widening skills gap. When employers invest in training it shows they care about their employees’ career development. Employees feel valued and see future opportunities with the organization. Better morale, loyalty, and longevity result—things most managers will agree, more than justifies the cost.


ej4 Blog - Labor Shortages and Skills Gaps Whitepaper-1 

Our whitepaper “Labor Shortages and Skills Gaps: Why Today’s Economy needs Quality Training Now More Than Ever,” makes this case in great detail, ending with some practical tips for companies that want to survive today’s tight labor market. Here are some of the highlights of our research:

Training Lets You Recruit from Within

During a labor shortage, recruiters and HR have a more difficult job than usual. Competition with other companies for quality candidates can be fierce. And the candidates are in the power position, picking from a number of suitors.

One solution to this issue is promoting from within. The search, interview, and onboarding processes are all accelerated. Promoting an existing employee has a built-in advantage for both parties: The employee is already familiar with the business’ culture and management. They may need to learn new skills for the new position, but they’ve already shown loyalty to the company and a proven track record. With a brand-new hire, there will always be some uncertainty about their capabilities and corporate fit. Not to mention their ramp-up time and learning curve.

This is precisely why an established training program (backed by a strong learning culture) is important. Training should be developed with an eye towards succession planning, guaranteeing seamless transitions to new positions. The bulk of training dollars are spent preparing proven employees for leadership roles. The value added to their resumes is more likely to stay in the company, ultimately improving the bottom line.

By making training programs readily available to any employee who is interested in improving his or her skills, the following things happen:

  • HR has a pool of talented candidates who are ready and willing to advance
  • Employees demonstrating management potential will be noticed
  • Employees will feel empowered to move their career in the direction they want
  • Opportunity for advancement becomes a true selling point for new candidates

Retaining Talent with a Learning Culture

Finding and onboarding new talent—either from outside or within—is only half of HR’s job. With more jobs than qualified candidates, employees are in the driver’s seat. If they do not feel valued in their current position, they are likely to look for a new opportunity elsewhere.

A lack of proper training is identified as one of the top reasons that employees decide to leave their jobs. Organizations need to tap into the natural human desire for personal growth and self-improvement. Gimmicky perks like game rooms and free food are no longer enough to keep the headhunters at bay. Instead, giving employees room to grow by investing in career development is much more attractive.

Companies need to create a strong learning culture to retain their top talent, backed by effective training programs and tools that help employees grow and advance within the company. Once these are in place, you’ll start seeing results:

  • Employees will feel valued and that the company cares about their future
  • Morale and motivation will improve
  • Providing opportunities will breed loyalty

Preparing for Digital Disruption

Companies today are automating where they can, making some routine tasks obsolete. As new technology floods the job space, the skills gap is widening rapidly. Organizations need to keep up to stay relevant, and they can’t do that without investing in training.

Surprisingly, though, the gap is often in “soft skills” rather than technical education. This seems counterintuitive, doesn’t it? But look at it this way: Creating new technologies is only part of the puzzle. Any new innovation needs to be reviewed, explained, implemented, and marketed. These are things that can’t be automated, at least not yet. Only live human beings can do this work.

When faced with changes in the digital landscape, companies need to focus training on competencies rather than tasks. Traits like curiosity, imagination, and creativity need to be nurtured, as well as skills like critical thinking, change management, and communications.

Prioritizing Training in the Current Climate

Finally, our whitepaper lays out and explains the action items that should be a priority for your organization:

  • Succession planning
  • Learning culture
  • Identifying competencies
  • Finding training solutions and content

The current labor shortage and skills gap are unlikely to be resolved in the very near future. In this economy, it’s important to learn about and implement training programs that give your employees, and your organization, what it takes to succeed.

Additional Resources


Ryan Eudy

Written by Ryan Eudy

Since joining ej4 in 2005, Ryan has operated in every facet of the business. It is this experience that Ryan utilizes to manage ej4’s daily operations. Ryan offers innovative solutions and has a unique understanding of matching client needs with the right performance improvement tools to change targeted behaviors.

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